Monday, August 24, 2009

Welcome to a world trapped between 'illegal' and 'immoral': Prostitution might be illegal in India, but the business of life goes on. Calling it illegal is a superfluous formality and denouncing it as an immoral blotch on society. Recognizing it as a profession will at least reduce the real illegalities that come with it, like child prostitution, drug abuse, and crime.

National scenario
Societies in which prostitution is legal have concluded that it is best to regulate a profession, which will never disappear. India should learn from these societies, rather than pretend that prostitution doesn't exist here. Especially when figures reveal that the business of sex-workers takes a dip when it is vacation time for colleges. There are over 2.5 million prostitutes in India and a quarter of them are minors! Child prostitution is one of the issues facing our country today. The increasing incidence of the HIV virus is on the verge of a threshold, which, if crossed, could see the epidemic affecting, perhaps, everyone in the world. This profession makes the sex-worker the most vulnerable.

Global scenario
Globally prostitution is legal in Canada, France, Wales, Denmark, Holland, most of South America, including Mexico (often in special zones), Israel, Australia, and many other countries. It's either legal or tolerated in most of Asia; Australia has a sex-service company whose stocks are traded on the stock exchange.

Pros of legalisation
No governments, no matter how hard they have tried, have been successful in abolishing prostitution. Prostitution is a reality and the chances of eliminating it are practically nil. By legalising prostitution, we also legalise the fight against Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and the AIDS epidemic. Just like laws have managed to do with untouchability, legalising prostitution will give dignity to sex-workers and save them from living as second grade citizens. A separate hub can be created for it and health of sex workers can be monitored. Legalisation will deter police from extorting money from the helpless sex workers who are forced to give a part of their income to the policemen to let them live in peace. Legalisation of the profession will at least give a human face to the profession, where prostitutes are, otherwise, are treated as outcastes.

Norms should be laid out for registration in terms of space, hygiene and medical facilities available. There should be periodical medical check-ups, and it must be made mandatory for every individual in the profession to possess a proper health certificate. Brothels should also be taxed like any other business house, and a certain amount should be earmarked by the government for providing medical facilities to sex workers. Their families and especially their children should be taken care of. A rehabilitation programme for sex workers wanting to opt out should also be worked out. Sex workers should be made to work only in the alloted areas or zones. Brothels must be situated away from residential areas and educational institutions.

In India women are forced into prostitution due to poverty and illiteracy. So women in this profession become carriers of AIDS and other deadly diseases. To combat with this situation, women’s organisations can be brought in to work at the grass-root level and to form a link between the sex workers and the government.

Cons of legalisation
As it is said, “Every coin has two sides.” Legalisation too has some shortcomings: Legalising prostitution would benefit the facilitators and the pimps, not their victims. In India, where women are coerced into the trade and kept in it almost like bonded labour, such a move will not benefit them. Commercial sexual exploitation is a form of slavery and slavery cannot be legalized. India should not compare itself with other Wesren countries, where prostitution enjoys legal status because our societal customs are most unlike those in the West. Since abortion is illegal in India, there is no question of legalising prostitution. So giving this business a legal status only means society is giving approval to the flesh trade. Some critics say, prostitution wrecks personality and affects marriage relationships. Prostitution affects family life, communicates diseases and thus brings social disorganization.

Closeting the flourishing profession of prostitution as a morality issue not only amounts to ignoring the exploitation of the commercial sex-workers, who feed on the income they generate, but the larger issue of AIDS. What is required is a practical approach. By according legitimacy to the sex-worker, millions of women who enter into this trade to feed their families will be freed from the clutches of pimps, brothel-owners and cops on the take. Legalising prostitution will see these women, who live life on the edge everywhere, gaining access to medical facilities, which can control the spread of AIDS. Timely sex education to sex workers can make them aware of venereal diseases attached with this profession. Employment opportunities for women, who have no alternative than to enter this profession, can play wonders. Removal of widow marriage, the social custom that is still followed in most of the Indian villages, can help curb prostitution.

There is a very strong need to treat the sex industry as any other industry and empower it with legal safeguards, which would rid this workplace of exploitative and unhealthy practices. The rising number of AIDS cases in India and the number of innocents being forced into the flesh trade are alarming. The time has come for lawmakers to be more serious about this issue. Legalisation is the answer.

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