In News: The apex court in its order stated that sex workers are entitled to dignity and equal protection under the law.
- A long-standing demand of sex workers that their work be decriminalised has been partially fulfilled with the Supreme Court.
What was the case about?
- In 2010, an appeal was filed in the SC against a 2007 order of the Calcutta High Court which upheld the life imprisonment imposed on a man named Budhadev Karmaskar, found guilty of murdering a sex worker in Kolkata’s red light area in September 1999.
- The court suo motu converted the case into a PIL to address the problems of sex workers.
- The court held that the Central and the State Governments should prepare schemes for rehabilitation for physically and sexually abused women commonly known as prostitutes through Social Welfare Boards.
- The Court had ruled in Budhadev Karmaskar (2011), that sex workers are also entitled to a “life of dignity” under Article 21 of the Constitution
- The SC also appointed a panel to make suitable suggestions on prevention of trafficking and rehabilitation of sex workers who wish to leave sex work.
What did the panel say in its report?
- In its final report submitted in 2016, the panel noted that sex workers
- Found it difficult to acquire proofs of identity such as ration cards or voter cards because they lacked a proof of residence
- District authorities did not recognise the identities of sex workers and their children
- No access to schemes meant for their rehabilitation
- No access to credit offered by states, because the lack of documents prevented them from opening bank accounts
- The committee recommended that amendments should be made to The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956.
- Centre’s response- In 2020, the government informed the SC that a Group of Ministers has been constituted to examine the two draft legislations and the SC panel report shall be taken into consideration by the Group of Ministers.
What is the recent court ruling?
- In 2020, the SC directed States and Union Territories to provide dry rations to sex workers identified by National Aids Control Organization (NACO) without insisting on proof of identity.
- Recently, the court noted that despite its assurances, the Centre was still to bring a law on the subject.
- The court used its extraordinary powers under Article 142 and directed that the recommendations in respect of sex workers and other connected issues be implemented by states and UTs.
- Recommendations to be implemented- The order listed 10 recommendations of the panel, and directed that six of them should be implemented.
- provision for immediate medical assistance for any sex worker who is a victim of sexual assault
- direction to states to do a survey of all Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act Protective Homes
- sensitising police and other law enforcement agencies to the rights of sex workers and to ensure that police treat them with dignity and should not abuse them verbally and physically
- ask the Press Council of India to issue appropriate guidelines for the media to take utmost care not to reveal the identities of sex workers
- measures that sex workers employ for their health and safety must neither be construed as offences nor seen as evidence of commission of an offence
Prostitution in India
- It is said that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world.
- In India, their presence can be dated back to ancient times with scriptures mentioning the presence of three kinds of women — those who were chaste and devoted to a single man (even if the man had many wives).
- The second were women who kept away from men and lived as nuns.
- The third kind were women who had multiple lovers and were attached to no single man.
- In later times, such women were considered the wives of a temple deity or a Devdasi, who saw their god in all their lovers.
- This last kind of women has often been described in modern literature as ancient sex workers or prostitutes or sacred concubines.
Laws around prostitution in India
- While the profession has long been prevalent in India, its legal status has always been under a cloud and many have over the years demanded that it be legalised.
- Currently, as per the Indian Penal Code (IPC), prostitution is not in a broad sense illegal, but several activities under prostitution are punishable by law.
- As per the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1986, sex workers can practice their profession but activities, including pimping and running a brothel are considered a punishable offence.
- It is illegal to procure, induce, or abduct a person for prostitution.
- The law further mentions that the practice cannot take place within a 200-metre radius of any public place. To participate in prostitution lawfully, sex-worker must choose an isolated location.
- This clearly puts the legality of profession of prostitution in ambiguity.
- While the legality of sex work is vague in India, until now, other countries across the world have legalised the profession, granting sex workers equal rights and protection.
- Across Europe, countries such as Germany, Netherlands, France, Greece have legalised the profession.
How significant is the court order?
- By holding that basic protection of human decency and dignity extends to sex workers and their children, the Court has struck a blow for the rights of an exploited, vulnerable section.
- It has asked State governments to do a survey of protective homes to review the cases of adult women detained there and process their release in a time-bound manner.
- The Court’s observations shall help sensitise the police, media and society toward sex workers.
Source: Indian Express