By Upasana Bhat
BBC News, Delhi
The number of prostitutes in India has risen by 50% in less than a decade, according to a new survey.
The prostitutes operate in a wide range of venues
Two million sex workers in 1997 had risen to three million by 2003-04, the government-commissioned study said.
Many prostitutes are said to be underage, entering the sex trade between the ages of 12 and 15.
The study was conducted by an NGO which interviewed 9,500 prostitutes in 31 states and federal territories across the country over two years.
Government officials, police, journalists, social workers and NGOs working with prostitutes were also interviewed.
Although poverty, illiteracy and ignorance remain the most common factors for women to enter the sex trade, other factors have also emerged, the study says.
"New stimulating factors are a change in attitudes towards sex, migration, globalisation, increase in hospitality industries and the desire for a physical relationship with multiple partners," Dr KK Mukherjee, who conducted the study, says.
Delhi and Mumbai
Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal states together account for 26% of the total number of prostitutes in the country, but Delhi and Mumbai (Bombay) are said to be the preferred places of operation.
Dr Mukherjee says a large number of girls from Bangladesh identify themselves as being from West Bengal, making the state a high supply zone.
Women from Nepal are also part of the sex trade in India.
The study found that 90% of the prostitutes are in the 15-35 age group and their average work life spans 15 years.
"There is a great demand for younger girls and more than 35% of prostitutes enter the sex trade before the age of 18," Dr Mukherjee said.
The study also found that while a majority of prostitutes are from lower castes, 40% were from the upper castes, which Dr Mukherjee said was a new trend. The trade is also spread across all religions.
The prostitutes operate in a wide range of venues, ranging from hotels to cyber cafes.
There is a wide disparity in their incomes.
Prostitutes operating on the street and brothels earn between 2,000 to 24,000 rupees ($43-522) per month, whereas call girls make 40,000-800,000 rupees ($870-17,300).
Dr Mukherjee says the rise in prostitution could be controlled by channelling economic development to areas where the sex trade is prevalent.
He also says most prostitutes do not want their profession to be legalised as they prefer to work in secrecy. Only those sex workers who operate in red-light areas are making such demands, he says.