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Friday, 3 August, 2001, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Prostitution: should the laws be changed?
In India it is not illegal to have sex for money. But the law does prohibit certain activities connected with the trade such as pimping, trafficking, brothel keeping and soliciting for sex.

Changes to present legislation allowing prostitution to be recognised as legitimate work are now being considered. Those in favour hope this will help improve working conditions for women.

But recent protests in Delhi have shown opposition to relaxing these laws. Many sex workers point out that few of them enter the sex trade voluntarily and they fear that relaxing the laws would not benefit them, but lead to greater exploitation and abuse.

Would it encourage safer and healthier working conditions? Would the scale of the sex industry increase dramatically as a result of changes in the laws? Tell us what you think.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Most women in the Third World who take to the streets do so in desperation

Immivich, Canada
Most women in the Third World who take to the streets do so in desperation. Legalising the sex trade will bring about a whole gamut of new social problems, especially health related. Instead the Indian government should find alternate ways for these destitute women to make ends meet.
Immivich, Canada

This is probably one of the saddest commentaries I have ever read. It makes me want to weep openly to see our morality go down to such a depraved level. I wonder what some of the people who are proponents of "legalising" prostitution would feel if they went into a brothel or on the street and saw their daughter or sister or any close female relative selling their bodies for money? If someone commits an illegal act because they are sexually frustrated, then they should seek professional help because self control is one of the characteristics that makes us human.
Peter, USA

Take the example of the Netherlands. The result of legalising prostitution is more security and rights for sex workers. In India women are humiliated if they are raped. If you legalise it, you can control it. If you have a repressive regime, you only push it underground as proven in Afghanistan.
Bhavik, Kuwait

A woman has the right to sell access to her body

Rustam Roy, England
Prostitution is a profession, and banning it has not done any country any good. A woman has the right to sell access to her body if she so wishes as long as it is not a forced choice. I always find it difficult to believe that a bunch of old men are the so-called guardians of everyone's morality. We no longer live in the 19th century, and it is high time that our culture adapted accordingly. Just because you don't wish your daughter or sister to be a prostitute, doesn't mean that you have the right to deny other women the right to make this choice. Legalising prostitution would enable the government to actually have more control (through licensing regulations) of the health and safety of a sizeable proportion of the population.
Rustam Roy, England

Women are not a commodity to be sold on the market. By legalising prostitution we encourage menfolk to treat them as objects. Find out why some women choose prostitution as their profession and if it is due to poverty try to put an end to their misery.
Albert P'Rayan, India

Sex workers are a group of "sick people" who need proper medical treatment and rehabilitation. "Legalisation" is an invalid term as it leads to more people being 'addicted' to the profession and inflicted with physical harm. How can a society pave the way of Aids to run freely through its highway?
SMI, Japan

Prostitution exists in every society

Mo Ahmed, San Clemente, CA, USA
"Sex workers" are workers too. Give them legal protection, allow them to organise and let market forces decide their usefulness. The self-appointed "social conservatives" like Sushma Swaraj and Bal Thakeray should be reigned in. Indians should drop the mask of pat moralising and accept the world as it is - prostitution exists in every society. There is no "moral superiority" on this matter.
Mo Ahmed, San Clemente, CA, USA

Years of banning prostitution has not stopped the practice and is extremely unlikely to do so. India should adopt a policy like the Netherlands. Have an area designated as the red light district in every town. The government could tax any people who work in the industry and use that money to conduct regular tests on the prostitutes.
Santosh, USA/ India

To all those who prefer legitimising prostitution. If it is legalised, will you let your sister or daughter or wife to "practise" this trade?
San, India

Legalising prostitution does not automatically improve working conditions for the women

A.J. Lee, Canada
Through my experience of working for a world-wide human rights organisation, I know that legalising prostitution does not automatically improve working conditions for the women. The Indian government can ensure greater human rights protection only with a set of laws and concrete measures to reduce exploitation and abuse perpetrated on the vulnerable women. Indeed, any simplistic solution is bound to fail. Therefore, public debate on this issue (especially in India) must not confine itself to the superficial "good or bad change" but rather to the more holistic question of "What sets of public policies can be taken to promote greater human rights protection, particularly for women in the sex industry?"
A.J. Lee, Canada

Prostitution laws should be toughened, making it more difficult for new 'employees'. The current laws should be reformed to help only the ones already in the trade. I don't my daughter to come to me and say she wants to grow up to be a prostitute.
PJ, India

Are you people SERIOUS? I cannot believe what I'm reading! 'Prostitution is the oldest profession in the world"? You call prostitution a profession? Prostitution is the oldest CRIME in the world more like. In fact murder has been going on before prostitution so murder is the oldest crime in the world, but does that mean we stop combating murder?
Atif Hamid, Scotland

It's ridiculous to think of legitimising prostitution

Chitra, India
In a country with an alarming growth rate of Aids, it's ridiculous to think of legitimising prostitution. The government should be doing more to educate people and control prostitution as it stands now, not encourage it to thrive further.
Chitra, India

What sex workers actually need is better living conditions and access to medical help. The so-called 'shelf life' of these women does not last beyond 10 years after which they end up as destitute on city streets. What we need for them is perhaps access to vocational training and education.
Vibha, India/UK

I don't see any problem in legalising prostitution. The women get employment and the men get pleasure; no harm is done. However, I am Nepalese and what bothers me is that thousands of innocent, poor girls who are as young as 9, 10, and 11 are lured deceitfully and sold to Indian brothels. These helpless children are tortured and forced to shed their virginity against their will. They are robbed of their youth and life. Harsh laws against anyone involved in selling and buying young children and women should be passed and enforced immediately.
Prakash Chhantyal, USA

If we look at the background of women in the sex industry most of them have turned to this business due to intolerable overwhelming poverty. No woman in India wants to select this as their profession unless in a threatened situation created by sex industry brokers.
K.N. Subramanian UK/ India, UK

Indian conservatives should shed their hypocrisies

Sonny Azhaki, UK
Indian conservatives should shed their hypocrisies, inhibitions and their "ostrich-like" attitude to the changes sweeping Indian society. Prostitution is the oldest profession and has a legitimate place in society. There is a lot of sexually frustrated people in India. It's better if they release their pressures in a congenial and stress-free environment like a bordello. We know whoring goes on all over India. Why not legalise prostitution and devolve power to the women working in the business. The Government can then tax the sex workers and eliminate the pimps and ponces who often prey on vulnerable women.
Sonny Azhaki, UK

Prostitution is one of the oldest professions in the world and there would be so many problems if it did not exist. Let's recognise it as a legitimate profession, set some health standards, educate them, license them..
Aga Rehman, USA

The root cause of trafficking in women is the stupid industrial licensing policy. Industrial centres are far away from the population centres of UP and Bihar. Labourers who leave their villages cannot afford to take their families with them. This provides a ready market for prostitutes, which the underworld supplies.
Ashesh, USA

This is outrageous. I shudder to even think of such a law in India as crooks will definitely exploit it. To say that it would help working women is a cruel joke.

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