November 23, 2014

Why National Women’s Organisations Oppose The Proposal to Legalise Prostitution

The following is the press statement issued by the national women’s organisations, AIDWA, AIWC, AIDMAM , CWDS, GOS, JWP, MWF, MDS, NFIW, Streebal, War Widows Association, Apne Aap World Wide, YWCA on November 20, 2014 THE recent discussions around the proposal to legalise prostitution in India, which has also been supported by the newly appointed NCW chairperson indicate a policy shift which would directly affect women’s rights to equality and a life of dignity. The national women’s organisations, and others who have been working with women in prostitution for a long time strongly feel that women who have been prostituted, and often trafficked must have their basic rights recognised and safeguarded. However, this must not be confused with the issue of legitimising sex trade, and creating a section of “sex workers” as an employment avenue, such that women from poor and socially oppressed backgrounds, or women with no skills and little option for alternative employment fall prey to the pressures of the market economy, to serve the interests of the profiteers running this trade. The use of tradition to recreate and reinforce the chains of patriarchal bondage, due to which women from certain communities and castes have been forced to enter into prostitution with hardly any choice in the matter, must not receive a new legitimacy from the law makers. Earlier consultations initiated by the NCW have validated the stance against legislating prostitution, as this would increase trafficking of women and young girls significantly. These recommendations must be taken note of by the Commission, as well as by the ministry, before any legislative change is brought about. In this context we wish to clear certain misconceptions, and explain our common stand against legalisation which is as follows: The legalisation argument fails to address the multiple exploitation that women and girls in prostitution are subjected to. Their situation can hardly be ameliorated by licencing the root cause of their oppression. In a legalisation framework, it is not the prostituted who are protected, but the traffickers, pimps, procurers, and the buyers of sex. Legalisation is wrongly assumed to be a potential tool to increase prostituted women’s social protection, reduce prostitution-related crimes, and curb sex trafficking. However, this is not the reality. Increasing studies and evidence show that countries that have legalised or decriminalised prostitution, such as Germany and the Netherlands, are witnessing an exponential increase in sex trafficking. Moreover, legalisation of prostitution increases the demand for prostitution, since men are given social, moral and legal permission to purchase women and girls for sexual acts based on violence, sexual harassment and inequality. Hence, it is imperative to understand the coercive nature of the trade, and the fact that the whole process is mediated through an exploitative network. Survivors of prostitution have repeatedly shared the violence they experience in brothels, on the streets and elsewhere and reiterated their desire to exit and to prevent other women from being equally exploited. This can be better achieved by preventing trafficking, rather than indirectly advocating it through the law. Those who support legalisation do not pay adequate attention to how women enter into the trade. A large section of prostituted women and girls are most often victims of trafficking, usually at a very young age. A majority of them belong to the most oppressed, backward castes, Dalit and tribal communities. This is an expression of desperation, which has little to do with “voluntary choice”. Giving legal sanction to prostitution can hardly convert prostitution into decent, dignified and safe work as defined by the ILO. Thus, we feel strongly that the emphasis should be on prevention of trafficking, and implementation of ITPA to ensure strict punishment for the pimps, traffickers, etc. There is also an urgent need for the stricter implementation of Section 370 of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, which mirrors the definition of trafficking in the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking Against Persons, Especially Women and Children (the Palermo Protocol) that India ratified. In fact, the Government of India would undermine these principles should it opt for the legalisation of prostitution. Most importantly, we would point out the need for a comprehensive policy framework to ensure that health, safe and independent housing, legal protection, education and financial needs of those in prostitution are taken care of. The generation of alternative livelihoods for women and children in prostitution, and active steps to facilitate rehabilitation should be prioritised. Education for their children and for them should be ensured; better livelihood options for women should be provided. It is only thus that the human rights of women in prostitution can be safeguarded, and not by legalising prostitution, as proposed. We, the above mentioned national women’s organisations, and concerned groups demand: a) Recognition of the rights of women in prostitution to basic citizenship rights, including BPL card, coverage under ICDS, access to free health services, free education for them and their children, and freedom from violence and sexual harassment. b) Stringent punishment to traffickers, pimps, agents, etc, and effective implementation of the ITPA. c) Provision of comprehensive rehabilitation packages and alternate options for those wanting to opt out of the system. Their safety must be guaranteed by the government. d) Creation of alternative livelihood opportunities for women, in both urban and rural areas.