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Issue No.: 570 | December 2014

Legalising Prostitution – The Way Forward

Elizabeth Rosen
Legalisation would mean ratifying prostitution, whereby those entering the trade do so voluntarily, and out of a need for livelihood, without anyone coercing them into it.

Prostitution is as old as humanity. Religious and social mores have played significant roles in curbing or tempering such supposedly dangerous illicit relations to some extent. However, recent statistics have shown that despite being aware of the dangers of AIDS, there has been no let up in the sexual fervour of those indulging in prostitution. The point here is that all sorts of dangers haven’t dampened the urge and the inclination to take risks in illicit sex.

The crux of the argument is: Should prostitution be curbed by the heavy hand of the law?

Benevolent State or Exploitative State?

The classical definition of the State predisposes it to act as a benevolent guardian, taking a strong moralistic and paternalistic approach towards individual and collective development. This compels it to interfere in the human interactions process, empowering itself to gauge, decide, and break, or altogether halt that interaction, when it feels that the process itself is not circumscribed or supported by either law or religion. This, on the face of it, looks welcome or even respectable. However, such interference by the State tends to allow prostitution to survive and thrive, on the sidelines. We are referring to the gaps in law enforcement, wherein the police, aided by the ringleaders, collaborate with one other to keep the trade flourishing.

An act of collaboration between the police (which represents the State) and the ringleaders in prostitution implies a wilful and deliberate attempt to keep the flesh trade alive by bringing in more hapless and helpless women and even minor girls into the trade. This is done by kidnapping the victims, those rendered lonely or unwanted by force of circumstance - widows and orphans being prime targets.

Coercion requires the law to turn a blind eye to such kidnappings, at times with the police themselves acting as agents in the procurement process. Such collaboration also has its intended benefits: the police stand to be enriched both materially and financially. Instances are not found wanting where the police are themselves prospective customers for the sex slaves who are kept in rooms no bigger than cages kept for animals, and where starvation and torture are refined and used to force the women/minors to comply with the customers’ wishes. The horrendous treatment meted out to the women ensures they are caged for life. Precautions to prevent unwanted pregnancies are abandoned by some clients, with the result that the kids born out of wedlock, live, eat, breathe, and grow in the very same atmosphere in which they are born into. This sort of legitimises the beatings and the torture in the eyes of the innocent newborns, with the result prostitution becomes an accepted fact of life for them.

Such incidents are commonplace across the length and breadth of India, and highlight the concerns in the public health space as regards women and children forced into the trade, and the newborns that grow up within that space. There are concerns that impinge on the social, economic, political, and legal rights of these women who are free citizens of India - but only on paper.

What Then, is the Way Out?  Legalize the trade?

Legalization would mean ratifying prostitution, whereby those entering the trade do so voluntarily, and out of a need for livelihood, without anyone coercing them into it. Regulation of prostitution would mean an attempt at social reform or even a complete transformation of the victim in the Indian context. The State would reinforce its role as a guardian in seeing to it that sex workers fall within the ambit of social security, so that their health care needs are met, and alternate forms of livelihood could be sought for them. Legalisation negates the role of the police as a willing accomplice to the perpetuation of the trade, and cuts off the nexus between them and the ringleaders of the trade. Commercial sex workers would no longer be harassed by the police, and all claims to such engagement on an illicit, clandestine basis would end forever. This would rob both the police and the pimps of their ill gotten gains, and would remove the veil of fear under which the sex workers operate.

Legalisation of the sex trade would open up new vistas in the social, education, and cultural transformation of the victims. The Aadhaar Card combined with mobile telephony and financial inclusion in banking can radically alter the status of these workers by making them recipients of government grants with no leakages or intermediaries. A new identity would thus be a stepping stone in the empowerment process, and would lead to a seamless and rapid integration of the victims in the society in which they live and function.

Ratification of prostitution could also ensure a life of dignity to the children born to these sex workers while still in the trade, and could give them life making choices, an alternative to what their mothers chose. In fact, it is empirically proven that legalization of prostitution has only helped in making the progeny of sex workers alive to the immense possibilities that are available to them, and which would stop all attempts at perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty, hunger, illiteracy.

Legalisation of prostitution would help women by changing their situation from helplessness, hunger, dejection and shame – all conspiring against them to make them miserable victims of a vicious and endless cycle of violence and subjugation – to being lured into the trade for money, and the thrill of meeting some of society’s high and mighty. The social escorts come in the latter category. The shame and the ostracizing that follow in the normal course of events for people making such choices won’t shame them now.

Many countries have legalized prostitution with very positive effects. It has served to lift the veil of secrecy and opposition based on notions of ethical and religious propriety that bound most societies for centuries. The nexus between the police and the pimps is eliminated as participants in the trade are registered, and any coercion from any quarter is severely opposed and put down by the State.

It is high time India legitimises prostitution, thereby ending at one go, the vicious cycle of violence, greed, lust and neglect by the many catalysts in the process.

Elizabeth Rosen, Department of Economics, G. N. Khalsa College, Mumbai





Other Articles in this Issue

Between Ourselves

Between Ourselves



M. V. Kamath: A Personality Sketch


Remembering Rajaji

The Wit and Wisdom of Rajaji


“I Touch a Sensitive Spot”

C. Rajagopalachari

Rajaji in his ‘Dear Reader’ page, in Swarajya


Remembering Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

Rediscovering The Sardar

T. H. Chowdary

When the Princely State of Hyderabad was integrated into the Indian Union


Assembly Elections: Haryana and Maharashtra

Haryana A Decisive Victory for the BJP

B. N. Mehrish

Maharashtra: Have the BJP and the Shiv Sena Missed the Mandate?

Nitin G. Raut

Prime Minister Modi – 6 Months After

Modi Triumphant

Firoze Hirjikaka

Modi’s Detractors in America

Sardul Singh Minhas

Federalism, Governance and Growth

Sunil S. Bhandare

The Political-Economy of Black Money in India

Ajit Karnik

Point Counter Point : Every issue has at least two sides

Maharashtra Elections

Ashok Karnik

Ottawa Attack

Ashok Karnik

The Black Money Hype

Ashok Karnik

The Rural Perspective

Agriculture and Rural Indebtedness - IV

R. M. Mohan Rao

Foreign Relations in the 21st Century

Containment And Cooperation: Continuity and Change in India’s China Policy

B. Ramesh Babu

Book Review


Lok Raj Baral


Vappala Balachandran

Educating Adults

The Legality of ‘Tolerated Prostitution’ - Remembering Meliscent Shephard as we Debate

Jyoti Marwah

Legalising Prostitution – The Way Forward

Elizabeth Rosen

Sending Sheetal from a Red Light Area to a U.S drum school?


Facilities Alone do not make for Good Education – A Personal Experience

Suresh C. Sharma

Compelling Scientists to Teach

Suresh C. Sharma

From Our Readers

Andhra Pradesh Day

T. H. Chowdary

Preserving Our Nationhood and Culture

T. H. Chowdary

Why this Discrimination?

Suresh C. Sharma

“A Tale of Three Nations” - A Correction

Arvind Banavalikar


Many Voices from the Past

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