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Legalizing Prostitution in India

Legalizing Prostitution in India

By – Vaishali Singh*

There have been voices raised by woman right activist to distinguish between the prostitution as without having consent (forced) and prostitution with consent. Thus, this debate revolves around two things firstly regulations for governing the prostitution by legalizing it, secondly by abolishment, but it should not be illegalized. Then the question arise what could be the best way that leads us to accept this change in thoughts so that we can make a distinction between the sale of sex and exploitation of women. 

On the issue of whether to legalize prostitution or not two approaches come into the picture. Firstly, “regulation approach”, which desires to perceive sale of sex as a monetary action with offer and request controlled through the cost on the prostitution advertise which is managed by law. This approach is otherwise called validating and prostitution liberalization. Kate Butcher mentioned in The Lancet, “a large number of ladies have settled on the choice to involve in sale of sex, more often than not, however not generally, on monetary grounds. Sale of sex is practical reaction against constrained scope of alternatives. For instance, if you can easily gain money or better salary than working as labor or sweeping floor. This thought involved in same way the difference amongst deliberate and involuntary or compelled prostitution which is the principle subject of the verbal confrontation today. Legalization of prostitution can along these lines be viewed as an endeavor to distinguish sale of sex from sexual abuse. 

Secondly, the “abolition approach” which suggest that the state must take initiative to criminalize and punish the person who are involved in such demand of sex. The logic of abolition approach alludes to broad survey conveyed out in various nations everywhere throughout the world confirming that people in prostitution are presented to high dangers of anguish serious physical and mental viciousness and even greater dangers of death. 

For a superior comprehending of the abolition approach, it must be looked in connection to the large amounts sexual exploitation faced during sale of  sex which demonstrate that there is very thin line between prostitution and sexual exploitation. Considering this thin line of distinction appraises about the degree of human trafficking for sexual abuse increase extraordinarily. As in most of the parts where prostitution as actually practiced in the world usually, does satisfy the elements of trafficking. Thus, States Parties with legalized prostitution industries have a heavy responsibility to ensure that their legalized prostitution regimes are not simply perpetuating widespread and systematic trafficking. As current conditions throughout the world attest, States Parties that maintain legalized prostitution are far from satisfying this obligation.

In a country like India there are both pros and corns of legalizing prostitution. As there are seemingly many anti-legalization arguments for prostitution, there are also pro-legalization advocates whose argument is that the \'pros\' of legalization outweigh the cons. For example, those who fight for prostitution being legalized will argue that it will reduce trafficking, bring the sex industry under control, regulate prostitution activities, remove prostitution from the street, end the prostitution of children because child prostitution becomes unnecessary if adults can prostitute legally, protect women in the industry from abuse and violence because now it is no longer against their will and they will voluntarily engage in sexual acts. They argue that it would promote women\'s health because men \'must\' wear condoms and women must get health checks.  They argue that it would enhance women\'s choices because now women would be free to choose whether they want to be a part of the sex industry and offer them the opportunity to be self-employed. Another argument is that \'it is estimated that if prostitution were legalized in the rape rate would decrease by roughly 25% for a decrease of approximately 25,000 rapes per year. Also, that \'sex work is legitimate work and problems within the industry are not inherent in the work itself. It is the vulnerability, not sex work, which creates victims. Sex workers should enjoy the same labour rights as other workers and the same human rights as other people.

It has been argued that sex work is no moral or immoral than the chocolate or distilling industries. ‘Marjan Wijers’ explains in his book that \'criminalizing the sex industry creates ideal conditions for rampant exploitation and abuse of sex workers’. It is believed that trafficking in women, coercion, and exploitation can only be stopped if the existence of prostitution is recognized and the legal and social rights of prostitutes are guaranteed.

Similarly, there are some cons of legalizing prostitution. One of the many cons of legalizing prostitution is that it actually promotes illegal sex trafficking. Many pro-legalization people will claim that legalization controls the sex industry. However, if anything, it only expands it.

Legalization schemes, while they may seemingly be operational from the outside, actually increase hidden prostitution for numerous reasons. To start, it makes women register Many women don\'t want to register and undergo health checks as required by law in certain countries where prostitution is legalized because they don\'t want to lose their anonymity. Therefore, legalization often drives them into street prostitution, and many women choose street prostitution because they want to avoid being controlled and exploited by the new sex businessmen. Legalizing prostitution does not promote women\'s health. A CATW study reported that 47% of women stated that men expected sex without a condom, 73% reported that men offered to pay more for sex without a condom, and 45% of women said they were abused if they insisted that the men use a condom. The safety policies in many legal brothels simply do not protect women from harm. Women who work in these brothels have indicated that they were abused by buyers, brothel owners, and even their friends. Making prostitution legal does not enhance women\'s choice. Prostitution for most women is an involuntary way of making ends meet. Most women in prostitution did not make a rational choice to enter prostitution. Rather, such choices are better-termed survival strategies. Rather than agreeing to become a prostitute, a woman more accurately \'complies\' with the only options available to her at that point in time.

Lastly with regard to the legalization of prostitution, for every argument insisting that legalizing prostitution is the better choice, there is a stronger counter argument. Legalizing prostitution in these areas has led to more problems than had the matter been left alone and kept illegal.

*Director – Research & Publications ProBono India
Teaching & Research Associate at Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar


1. Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights aspects of the victims of trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Sigma Huda (E/CN.4/2006/62), par. 42-43: 

2. Butcher, Kate, Confusion between prostitution and sex trafficking, The Lancet, Vol 361, June 7, 2003

3. Markovich, M. "Guide to the UN Convention of 2 December 1949 for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others", available at: .