Prostitution As Trafficked Profession

Prostitution is the oldest profession of the world is considered as the most trafficked profession. Where we talk about freedom of profession, it becomes really important to know, do people have freedom in voluntarily and respectfully joining prostitution as a profession, or they are forced to join the profession. Though World Charter for Prostitutes’ Rights[1] talks about decriminalizing all aspects of adults’ prostitution that have been voluntarily entered by them, there are countries like India where prostitution is still a criminal offense. The author would try to understand prostitution in the Indian context. Some people believe that prostitution in India is neither legally accepted, nor explicitly treated as illegal. As there are people who have entered into this profession by choice and are happy with their profession, but then there are some other people who are forced to become a prostitute, living in a brothel, suffer from various diseases. India is a society where a lot of ideas and laws are guided by the morals of society. Our society considers prostitution as taboo and that’s why it finds it hard to accept prostitution as a profession. And therefore a very few people have joined it voluntarily while others have been forced to enter the profession. Most of the prostitutes are female as male prostitutes are not recognized in India. The societal view in India is tilted towards considering prostitution as a profane business and ready to treat it as an illegal activity.[2]

But whatever may be the view of the society, prostitutes or sex workers are human beings at first place and therefore there basic human rights should be protected. In 1950, India ratified the International Convention for Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Persons and Exploitation of the Prostitution of others.[3] Then in 1956, the Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act was passed which is considered as the most basic act that deals with the sex workers. This act was later changed to the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act in 1986. These acts restrict prostitution in the public sphere.[4] It prohibits sex workers from indulging in their works within 200 yards from a public place. It also prohibits prostitutes from soliciting their services or seducing people.[5] It restricts sex workers from making their call number public, say through advertisement, etc. otherwise, they will be punished with a maximum imprisonment of 3 months along with fines.[6] In India, around more than half a million children are in this business.[7] And those people who indulges in such activity with a child under 18 years, with imprisonment of 7-10 years.[8] The Immoral Traffic Act also discourages people running, maintaining and assisting in the business of brothel and sex industry in India.[9] Unlike any other workers, sex workers are not considered as workers under Labour law.[10] Therefore other laws and not labour law, protect the rights of the sex workers.

Also Read – Legalising Prostitution in India

India, though considered to be a developing country, has been poverty-stricken for a very long time. And poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment are the basic reasons for the people to join prostitution as profession. There are certain regions in India where prostitution is the only source of income. In Bachara tribe of Madhya Pradesh of the eldest daughter of the family is forced to become a prostitute; in Wadia tribe of Gujarat, men of the family go out and find suitor for the women; and Nat caste of Natpurwa have a tradition of prostitution for around 400 years.[11]


Robert I. Friedman (1996), has referred Bombay as “Asia’s largest sex bazaar” as Bombay is center to nearly 100,000 female sex workers.[12] British military for a long period of time has been maintaining brothels in India, where girls from poor families were taken to cities and were promised to be paid a good amount.[13] But this did not happen, these girls and women were not paid and were raped by their customers. These cages still continue and today women are paid around 500 rupees and virgins are auctioned to the highest bidder.[14] There are around 10 million sex workers in India who get their clients majorly belonging to the class of truck drivers, migrant workers and other men who are separated from their families for long periods of time.[15] And about 40% of sex workers are of Nepali origin in the brothels of Mumbai, who were either kidnapped or sold from their village by their own family members.[16] The figures also indicate that three of them do so against their will every hour, with four women and girls committing prostitution in India.[17]

More violence and less regard for sex workers.

Lack of education and unemployment becomes an instrument to trap women from the weaker section of the society into the business of prostitution. The major section of the sex workers belongs to single abandoned girls and economically distressed women.[18] People find it easy to abuse them as they do not come forward and raise their voices against abuse and traffic that they face because they are not aware of their rights.[19] Also as prostitution, as a profession has not been recognized in India, therefore if any client cheats, then he can’t be dragged to the court. Most girls involved in prostitution are highly pimped and raped. Sex workers continue to be poor as their clients do not pay them most of the time. Also, these sex workers are looked down upon by society and their families refuse to accept them. Our society fails in treating prostitutes as human beings and continues to abuse them but in the case of Sushil v. State of U.P., the court has held that nobody can commit to sexual intercourse even with a prostitute under threat or compulsion.[20]

Indian functionaries

Where the functionaries like police, court, hospital, etc were made to protect the rights and interests of the people in the society, it looks like sex workers were not taken into consideration as people. It becomes really hard for them to approach government bodies for help as our functionaries are not sex worker-friendly.[21] When these sex workers are forced to get into a sexual relation without taking any proper care and protection, they suffer from various sexually transmitted diseases like HIV-AIDS, and some other diseases like cervical cancer, psychological disorder, etc which cannot be cured easily. And most of the time our doctors and hospital are of no help to them. Our courts have tried to protect the rights of the sex workers by giving various judgments in their favor like in the case of Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal, the court held that the sex workers are entitled to the right to life and should be guaranteed protection in the same way as any other citizen. It also requested the state government to make recommendations on the rehabilitation of sex workers wishing to leave sex work of their own volition and to provide favorable conditions to sex workers wishing to continue to work as sex workers in compliance with Article 21 of the Constitution.[22] Also in Gaurav Jain v. Union of India, it was directed to uplift the prostitutes and make juvenile homes for children’s of prostitutes.[23]

Also Read – Prostitution In India – A Vague Concept.


In India, the government has been trying for a long time to ensure the basic human rights of sex workers by making laws, introducing policies, etc. But in reality, sex workers are still not treated with respect in society. And these laws which were made to protect the interest of the sex workers are instead working against them. These people cannot come forward and say openly that they profess prostitution, as society treats prostitution as taboo. These sex workers cannot tell about their profession to their family members or to their neighbours. If they suffer from any disease, then they hesitate to share information with the doctors. If they are cheated by their customers, they refrain from going to court. These people suffer so much physically and mentally. The problems of a sex worker are understood only by the other/ co- sex workers.

Where SITA and PITA were made to protect the interest of the prostitutes, they have failed to achieve their goals. Prostitution profession should be legalized and sex workers should be treated as right bearers. There is a need for enactment of comprehensive legislation through which prostitution can be supervised. A separate judicial or quasi-judicial body should be made to deal entirely with prostitution. Also, sex workers should be provided with education and medical facilities. These sex workers should be taught some other work also like, sewing, book-keeping so that they always have a back-up plan for themselves.  An awareness program should be launched to spread awareness among the sex workers and the society about the sexually transmitted diseases. The Government should also provide sex workers with the health insurance program. And unlike other work environments, their working conditions should also be improved. They should be encouraged to maintain hygiene. Various functionaries of the society like courts, police officers, doctors, etc, they should be made prostitution profession friendly. Also, the government should set up Rehabilitation Centres, where prostitutes can go for therapy and routine check-ups.[24]

[1] World Charter for Prostitutes’ Rights: International Committee for Prostitutes’ Rights February 1985, Amsterdam, 37 Social Text, A Special Section Edited by Anne McClintock Explores the Sex Trade, 183, 183 (1993). Available at

[2]Spardha Pandey, Real life stories of high-end prostitutes, TOI, Feb 3, 2018. Available at

[3]A Convention for Suppression of Traffic in persons and of the Expliotation of the Prostitution of Others, United Nations Treaty Collection. Available at

[4] § 3, The Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act (SITA), 1956.

[5] § 8, The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (PITA), 1986.

[6] Childline India Foundation. Available at

[7]Prostitution in India, Facts and Details. Last updated on June 2015. Available at

[8] § 4, The Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act (SITA), 1956.

[9] 1981 RCC 42.

[10] Harsha Asnani, How Are The Rights Available To The Prostitute Workers In India Violated, IPleader, April 19, 2016. Available at Accessed on Sept. 11, 2019.

[11] Samudranil, Legalizing Prostitution in India, My India, Aug. 20, 2015. Available at

[12] Prostitution in India, Facts and Details. Last updated on June 2015. Available at

[13] Horrors of India’s brothels documented, BBC News, (Nov. 23, 2013),

[14] Ibid.

[15]Prostitution in India, Facts and Details. Last updated on June 2015. Available at

[16] R. Rajbhandari and K. Adhikari, “Rehabilitation of Victims of HIV/AIDS, ” in: Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC), AIDS Education (Kathmandu: WOREC, 1993).

[17] § 3, The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (PITA), 1986.

[18] Supra note 11.

[19] § 3, The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (PITA), 1986.

[20] See: Criminal Appeal No. 422 and 425 of 1994, the Allahabad High Court, Order dated 13.05.2016.

[21]Aarthi Pai, Meena Seshu &Manisha Gupte, Status of Sex Workers in India. Available at

[22] 11 SCC 538 (2011).

[23] AIR 1997 SC 3021.

[24] Mahica Vinod, An Account of Health Care Policies for Prostitution in India. .Volume 10, Issue 1 Ver. I, IOSR-JEF, pp. 69, 73. (2019). Available at

This article is authored by Vaishali Soni, student of B.A. LL.B (Hons.) at Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai.

Also Read – Child Prostitution in India

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