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Officially Indian government has legalized prostitution in the country but its definition is limited to the exchange of money for sex. In fact, it does not include soliciting sex, brothel keeping and pimping to a large extent. Unlike in countries like New Zealand, where since 2003, licensed brothels operating under public health and employment laws, which means the workers get social benefits just like other employees.
In Australia, for that matter, prostitutes are required to register, undergo periodic health examinations, be 19 years old or older, and pay taxes.But in India, the prostitutes are objectified and made invisible with the ambiguity of laws and customs.
History of Prostitution
Prostitution was a part of daily life in ancient Greece. In the ancient city of Heliopolis in Syria, there was a law that stated that every maiden should prostitute herself to strangers at the temple of Astarte.
In ancient India prostitutes have been referred as to Devdasis. Devadasi literally means God’s (Dev) female servant (Dasi), where according to the ancient Indian practice, young pre-pubertal girls are ‘married off’, ‘given away’ in matrimony to God or Local religious deity of the temple.
The marriage usually occurs before the girl reaches puberty and requires the girl to become a prostitute for upper-caste community members. Such girls are known as jogini. Later, according to the 1934 Devadasi Security Act, this practice was banned in India.
Ambiguous definition of prostitution
As a widely marginalized population, women’s interests, needs, and demands are widely ignored in political arenas. This is the reason why even the Indian constitution defines prostitution ambiguously.
The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956 defines prostitution as ‘the sexual exploitation or abuse of persons for commercial purposes or for consideration in money or in any other kind.’ The amended version of the act, Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act 1956 (SITA, aimed to limit and ‘abolish’ prostitution in India by gradually criminalizing various aspects of sex work.
So, for example, prostitutes can practice their trade but cannot legally solicit customers in public. What this means is that a woman is free to use her body for material gains but willful exposure of the body is a penal act.
Therefore, a woman is well within her rights to carry out prostitution even in exchange for material benefit as long as it is done individually and voluntarily. However, the law forbids a sex worker to carry on her profession within 200 yards of a public place.
Is Prostitution a choice?
India has over 3 million sex workers. Bharati Dey, President of the All India Network of Sex Workers, argues that prostitution is a matter of choice, and that sex workers should have rights like anyone else.
The industry has grown as women, notably ill-educated rural migrants, enter India’s labour market in larger numbers. Most find low-paid or casual work; for a minority, selling sex is a relatively well-paid option.
Forced prostitution of children
Sadly, the majority of girls enter prostitution before they have reached the age of consent. Most women in prostitution were sexually and physically abused as children, deprived and pushed into selling sex at age 14, on average. Thus accustomed to frequent violence and exploitation, they eventually come to believe this is their role in life.
Apne Aap, an anti-trafficking group, says brokers pay as little as 4,000 rupees to the families of village girls who are then raped by customers. Raids of brothels by NGOs and police to rescue victims often fail because families later return the children to the same brokers. In other cases girls and young women are tricked with promises of marriage.
Apne Aap claims that over a third of all sex workers are under 18 years of age. Apne Aap’s campaign, “Cool Men Don’t Buy Sex”, is intended to reduce demand.
The wider debate
The puritans think that women selling sex are sinners and do-gooders, who think they are victims. The reality is more nuanced. Some prostitutes do indeed suffer from trafficking, exploitation or violence; their abusers ought to end up in jail for their crimes. But for many, both male and female, sex work is just that: work.
The online hand-job
Sex arranged online and sold from an apartment or hotel room is less bothersome for third parties than are brothels or red-light districts.
Above all, the web will do more to make prostitution safer than any law has ever done. Pimps are less likely to be abusive if prostitutes have an alternative route to market.
Specialist sites will enable buyers and sellers to assess risks more accurately. Apps and sites are springing up that will let them confirm each other’s identities and swap verified results from sexual-health tests.
Profession or Oppression?
Prostitution has been called the world’s oldest “profession.” In reality, it is the world’s oldest “oppression” and continues to be one of the most overlooked human rights abuses of women on the planet today.
While many societal institutions attempt to normalize prostitution, prostituted women are subjected to violence and abuse at the hands of paying “clients.” For the vast majority of prostituted women, “prostitution is the experience of being hunted, dominated, harassed, assaulted and battered.” It is “sexual terrorism against women at the hands of men and little is being done to stop the carnage.” Indeed, in “no other so-called profession are so many women murdered each year.”
Survivors of prostitution have described it as “the choice made by those who have no choice.” Women are forced into prostitution by gender discrimination, race discrimination, poverty, abandonment, debilitating sexual and verbal abuse, lack of formal education, or a job that does not pay a living wage.
Regardless of the reasons for prostitution, or physical location of the act – strip club, massage parlor, brothel, street, or hotel – prostitution is extremely dangerous to women, and this physical and psychological danger is perpetuated by the demands of the buyers. Thus, Prostitution must be exposed for what it really is—a “male social system in place to ensure the satisfaction of male demand for sexual servicing and for objectified sex.”