Sex Workers: Living, When In Your Bed But Dead, For Human Rights?

By | January 30, 2018
Sex Workers - India

Last Updated :

Introduction


“Sex workers should enjoy the same protections and benefits as other citizens and workers. Sex workers must be understood as persons endowed with rights in a meaningful fashion, not merely as a rhetorical claim.”


Sex workers have been always considered as a curse to society. They aren’t treated at par with others and as a result, they are victims of discrimination and social neglect. Apart from such discrimination and neglect, they are bombarded with many other problems as well. As they live in a harmful and vulnerable society, they are victims of violence from various stakeholders of the society and also from the authorities. They are denied their basic human rights – social respect and consideration.

What is surprising is that, even after being a party to so many international conventions on the rights of women and also after having its constitution in place which prohibits discernment and abuse on the basis of gender, it has failed miserably to protect rights of women specifically those of sex workers.

Roots of the profession of sex workers

In India, the act of prostitution has existed since ages and have undergone a change in its nature, intensity, and issues concerning it. Vedas have mentioned about the work and conditions of workers that provide for numerous services to satisfy a man’s lust in the form of carnal desire.

Kamasutra is one of those scriptures which do provide recognition of the role of prostitutes. However, many Hindus considered the Kamasutra as an “obscene book”, and some even go as far as denying its uprightness as a Vedic scripture. But as time passed by the mentality of the people have differed from each other in a variety of ways. While some people consider that such workers should be granted equal rights in terms of dignity and their profession be legalized. However, the others contend that their work is illegitimate and should of any consequence be not recognized.

Presently there is this confusion building up as one side reiterates that prostitution should be criminalized on three strands of thought- morality, legal paternalism and harm to others. The other side believes in what these unions have been demanding for that to relax laws on loitering and propositioning on streets as well as general soliciting.

Questions in dispute with regard to Sex Workers

  1. What is the alternative to those who want to leave prostitution?
  2. Who is responsible to provide the fundamental rights to this marginalized group?
  3. Does their profession really infringe upon the religious purity of other people?
  4. Is it the responsibility of the government to provide social security benefits with emphasis to disabled sex workers?
  5. How can we free them from the trauma caused by the so-called “Social stigma”?
  6. Is this profession to be legalized?
  7. Can men be held accountable for causing distress to the women sex workers?

Reasons which can result in an increasing number of sex workers in India:

  1. Poverty
  2. Lack of education
  3. Breakdown of marriage
  4. Family business
  5. Human trafficking
  6. Criminal background
  7. Personal tragedies
  8. Prior incest and rape
  9. Lack of sex education, media
  10. Bad influence

Health and sanitation issues among sex workers

Sex work denotes the lawful and unlawful aspects of the sex industry. Apart from the social stigma and discrimination, they are the most vulnerable to physical and mental health problems. With their concentrated population in countries like India, they are likely to be the victims of HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, genital infections, unaware pregnancy, frequent abortions amongst many others that go unnoticed.

One serious concern that has not been explored much is the problem of sanitation Since our childhood, we’re constantly told that health is wealth. Yet, when it comes to menstrual hygiene, an uncomfortable silence takes its place.

This uncomfortable silence is the reason why numerous young girls in India are unaware of what their bodies undergo during their menstrual cycle. It’s why we can’t seem to ask for pads and tampons without whispering at the chemists. And it’s also why a 12-14.5% goods and services tax (GST) on sanitary napkins has gone unchallenged for so long. Yes, we have begun to break that silence, but universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services is still scarce. Especially when it comes to sex workers, the so-called marginalized groups in our society.

Also, Violence against sex workers is one of the factors driving the HIV epidemic in many countries, because violence against women and girls is linked to their inability to insist on the use of condoms, etc.

The brothels are too small and at the same time unhygienic to accommodate these workers in a decent manner. Already a part of social exclusion, these places are away from the investment and implementation of proper civic amenities, forgetting that they are losing their rights first as humans and not as sex workers. These issues together become a threat to their existence as a worker and citizens.

Sex workers also face psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, violent behaviour, suicidal tendencies as at the same time they are exposed to physical and mental violence from their supervisors, customers and the society itself.

Due to lack of proper health care and sanitation facilities, as well as social stigmas and discrimination the sex workers neither have human rights nor labour rights. In situations where sex workers have no access to condoms, are denied its use by clients, are away from sexual infections. The callous behaviour in hospitals and clinics towards sex workers is what makes them even more reluctant to go for check-ups.

Judiciary – a Ray of Hope!

The Judiciary has started taking initiative and has actually brought about a real in the change in the execution of the powers whenever time demanded. As in response to the intervention brought in by Lawyers collective (an NGO which promotes human Rights) in Tara vs. State, the Delhi High Court, under Article 226, overturned the forcible detention and transportation of 15 adult sex workers to Andhra Pradesh, terming it illegal and violative of their fundamental rights.

But, in the case of Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal, 2010 the Supreme Court of India threw a major light. This case had arisen out of a criminal appeal in the Supreme Court wherein the accused, Budhadev Karmaskar, was convicted of murdering a sex worker in Calcutta in 1999. While dismissing the appeal and affirming the conviction in February 2011, the Supreme Court, suo moto, converted the appeal into public interest litigation on the rehabilitation of sex workers.

The Court observed that the prostitutes also have a right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution of India since they are also human beings and their problems also need to be addressed. It further noted that “a woman is compelled to indulge in prostitution not for pleasure but because of abject poverty. If such a woman is granted opportunity to avail some technical or vocational training, she would be able to earn her livelihood by such vocational training and skill instead of by selling her body.”

Accordingly, the Supreme Court directed the Central Government and all the State Governments to prepare schemes for giving technical/vocational training to sex workers in all cities in India.” This clearly shows how the judiciary is making the most of its power to provide basic fundamental rights to its citizens.

Laws protecting Sex Workers

1. Under the Constitution

They also have the requisite right to practice their profession freely as imbibed under Article 14 of our Indian Constitution. We also fail to recognize the fact that even males are involved in this profession. However, the worst affected remains women. Various articles in the constitution provide rights to sex worker by treating them equal to other citizens.

For that matter Art 21, provides the right to live with human dignity and such right includes almost all other rights in itself. This assures sex workers the status equal to other citizens and protects their fundamental rights. Article 12 provides protection of the law to all individual against any interference or attacks. The list of such rights under the constitution would go on but what needs is the awareness provided to sex workers that such protection and rights exist for them as well.

2. Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act (ITPA) of 1986

It seeks to prevent trafficking of persons in India and prohibits most outward manifestations of sex work, including brothel operation and public solicitation. It also allows for the displacement of sex workers from their residences in the name of “public interest.” While the stated purpose of the ITPA is to protect sex workers, it is more often seen being used against them. Though the act does not specifically prohibit prostitution, law enforcement officials have continuously used it as a tool to harass sex workers. The prohibition against “public solicitation” is particularly ambiguous. Police officers have been known to accuse workers of solicitation, and then demand bribes or free sex.

Countries that have legalized prostitution

There are many countries who have legalized prostitution, few of them are :

 1) New Zealand

Prostitution has been legal here since 2003. There are even licensed brothels operating under public health and employment laws. The workers get social benefits just like other employees.

2) Austria

Prostitution is completely legal in Austria. Prostitutes are required to register themselves, go through periodic health examinations and also pay taxes.

 3) Bangladesh

Bangladesh has a severe minor trafficking issue, which is perpetuated by corruption. Pimping and owning a brothel is legal here.

 4) Belgium

They have been trying to remove the stigma, violence, and fear connected with prostitution by not just legalizing it but also running proper state of the art brothels with fingerprint technology and keycards!

5) Colombia

Like the rest of the mentioned countries, it is also legal to work in the sex industry in Colombia.

6) Denmark

Here the government helps those with disabilities, by incurring some extra costs. Prostitution is completely legal here.

7)  Germany

Prostitution was legalized here in 1927. Here, there are proper state-run brothels. The workers are provided with various health insurance, also they have to pay taxes and they also receive social benefits like a pension.

8) The Netherlands

Being one of the places most famous for its red-window sex workers, prostitution is obviously legal here. They always had a slightly more open and different way of dealing with things which are deemed to be taboo elsewhere.

There are many more countries where prostitution is legal and sex workers are entitled to rights at par with other citizens of the country. This is surely a progressive step as this gives status to sex workers, like other citizens of the country and does not leave them neglected.

The children of prostitutes: convicts without crime

There is nothing to get your notice as to how the children of sex workers are treated in India. No matter how much the citizens of this country try to show that they equally treat the children of sex workers but that doesn’t hold true at all. Even you know that, right?

It wasn’t their choice, it’s not their fault, they haven’t done anything wrong then why is that they are looked as convicts without them committing any crime. This is nothing but the biggest reason that leads to the continuation of the chain of sex workers. When people feel neglected, when they aren’t treated as other citizens, they prefer staying in their zone and continue the profession carried out by their parent. And after all this, you look down at the status of sex workers.

Conclusion

Sex workers should enjoy the same rights, protections, and benefits at par with all other citizens and workers. It is really important to understand sex workers as persons endowed with rights in a meaningful fashion and not merely as a rhetorical claim. Recognition of sex work as an occupation will be the first step in this direction.

We all must remember that the sex workers are not a threat to the society, in fact, they too need the rest of society to recognize and fight against their own misconceptions, judgments, and unfounded fears.


– Sonika Choudhary

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