Sunday, 7 December 2014

Sex work: To criminalize or to decriminalize?

National Commission for Women is pushing for a bill to legalise sex work. Activists argue that it will not address the problems faced by the women in flesh trade. According to them, it will increase the exploitation of sex workers by those who manage brothels as well as by the law-enforcement officials, as it is happening now. They are concerned that in a country like India where farmers are driven to commit suicide and tea workers are literally dying of hunger, legalisation of sex work will increase trafficking in women and children. It will be difficult to determine who are forced into the trade and who have freely chosen it as an occupation when they are living in a condition of famine and slavery.

By the way, speaking of free choice, I am reminded of the public stand of present NCW chief on the matter. She is on record saying that women should not assert their autonomy because they may face backlash from the biased society. It is another matter that the statutory body headed by her is mandated to protect the rights of women against the prejudices of society and not the other way around.

This NCW wants to legalise sex work apparently to protect rights and interests of women in the trade.

However, before we take any legislative actions we need to understand what is involved in flesh trade and how it is infringing rights of women.

Radical feminists hold that prostitution and pornography are aspects of male violence against women. Not only the individual women involved are subjected to degrading treatments and dehumanisation but the women as a collective is dehumanised by the practice of prostitution and pornography.

However, I feel more inclined to agree with the understanding of prostitution by the Swedish lawmakers. They say "In Sweden prostitution is regarded as an aspect of male violence against women and children. It is officially acknowledged as a form of exploitation of women and children and constitutes a significant social problem... gender equality will remain unattainable so long as men buy, sell and exploit women and children by prostituting them."

And their solution?

In 1999, after years of research and study, Sweden passed a legislation that a) criminalizes the buying of sex, and b) decriminalizes the selling of sex.

I think India can effectively deal with the problem in Swedish way.

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