A panel set up by the Supreme Court to protect the rights of sex workers has said those “participating with consent” should not face criminal action. The panel, instituted in 2011, will submit its report next month. According to Indian law, prostitution itself is not illegal, but sex workers are very vulnerable to police action because of existing laws, especially the one that says prostitution or soliciting customers in a public place is illegal.
According to a Hindustan Times report, the panel explained that whenever a brothel is raided, sex workers should not be penalised as prostitution is not illegal, though running the brothel is. The panel recommended removing soliciting as a punishable offence from Section 8 of the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1956. The law states that sex workers cannot solicit or seduce, and that this is punishable with a fine of Rs 500 and six months in jail.
The panel, headed by senior lawyer Pradip Ghosh, also recommended amending the law that says any person above the age of 18 living on money earned from prostitution can face imprisonment up to 10 years. It also said no action should be taken against a partner, spouse or child living off such earnings, unless it was proved that they forced someone into the trade. The committee also suggested sending sex workers to a correctional home instead of jail, and reducing the sentence from five years to one. It also has the mandate to recommend measures for rehabilitation of sex workers who want to leave the profession.
Most of India’s estimated 1.2 million sex workers are forced into the trade because of extreme poverty.