Page 1 of 2Sex work – what does it mean?
Sex work is believed to be the oldest profession in the world. It has a long history throughout the world and in India.
Sex work in India
- It is estimated that there are 2 million sex workers in India (but it is likely that this number is a lot higher as the industry is often hidden).
- 40% of female sex workers are thought to have began to sell sex before the age of 18.
- Many young men are initiated into their sexual lives by sex workers.
(UNFPA (2001)Adolescents in India : A profile)
Sex Work Law
A Brief History
The Victorian morality introduced by the British portrayed sex work as a sin and relegated sex and sexuality to the darkness of bed rooms. After independence, the British law was adapted without much modification and subsequent laws, including the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA) which regulated prostitution and section 377 of the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure, which outlawed homosexual behavior.
- In India, the sex trade is regulated by the 1986 Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA)
- The ITPA criminalises and prevents activities associated with prostitution (keeping a brothel, procuring women, having sex with minors etc.) while preserving a woman’s right over her body.
- The ITPA criminalises most aspects related to sex work by equating ‘Voluntary adult sex work’ with trafficking.
- Under the ITPA a woman can sell sex as long as it takes place in private.
- The act also makes it illegal for any third parties to be involved in, or benefit from commercial sex.
- In effect, the law allows a woman to sell sex but makes it illegal to engage in activities to procure business.
- Even living off income made from sex work is illegal under the Act.
- Therefore sex workers must break the law and sex work is then criminalised.
- The police have considerable latitude in interpreting and implementing the law.
- Central government have put forward an amendment to ITPA which would punish clients of sex workers.
- The logic behind the move is supposedly to prevent trafficking of people into sex work by reducing the demand for sex work.
- Evidence shows such measures push sex work underground making sex workers more vulnerable to violence and HIV infection.
- The government plans to go ahead despite huge protest.