In News: A long-standing demand of sex workers that their work be decriminalized, has been partially fulfilled with the Supreme Court passing an order stating that adult sex workers are entitled to dignity and equal protection under law (Article 21).
- Coming down heavily on the brutal and violent “attitude” of the police toward sex workers, the Court said “it is as if they are a class whose rights are not recognised”.
- With the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill yet to see the light of day, the Court invoked powers under Article 142 to issue guidelines till the legislation is in force.
- SC has asked states and Union Territories to “implement” and “to act in strict compliance of” certain recommendations made by a panel appointed by the court in 2011 on the rehabilitation of sex workers.
What was the case about?
Case Budhadev Karmaskar (2011): Sex workers are also entitled to a “life of dignity”.
2011: Had set up a panel to look at prevention of trafficking; rehabilitation; and conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue work.
- As the Court awaits the Government’s response to the panel’s recommendations that adult sex workers should not be “arrested or penalised or harassed or victimised,” a three-judge Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao did well to direct the police to treat “all sex workers with dignity and should not abuse them, … verbally and physically, subject them to violence or coerce them into any sexual activity”.
Challenges the Panel highlighted
- Sex workers find it difficult to acquire proofs of identity such as ration cards or voter cards because they lacked proof of residence.
- District authorities did not recognize the identities of sex workers and their children, and sex workers did not have access to schemes meant for their rehabilitation.
- They also had no access to credit offered by states, because the lack of documents prevented them from opening bank accounts.
Changes in the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act
Has asked State governments to do a survey of protective homes under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, the legislation governing sex work in India, to review the cases of “adult women” detained there and process their release in a time-bound manner.
- ITP Act penalises acts such as running a brothel, soliciting in a public place, living off the earnings of a sex worker and living with or habitually being in the company of one.
- The Government’s responsibility is now to draw up appropriate legislation to free consenting sex workers from stigma and grant them workers’ rights.
- The Court suggested the Centre and States involve sex workers or their representatives to reform laws.
Recommendations that the SC has directed to 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 so that cases of adult women who are detained against their will can be reviewed and processed for release in a time-bound manner
- Sensitising police and other law enforcement agencies to the rights of sex workers and to ensure that police treat them with dignity and do not abuse them verbally or physically or coerce them into any sexual activity
- 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
- Direction that measures that sex workers employ for their health and safety (condoms, etc.) must neither be construed as offences nor seen as evidence of commission of an offence.
Source: The Hindu & Indian Express
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