Sex Worker Advocates Score Victory Against Stigmatization in India

After months of speculation
and stress, sex workers rights advocates have reason to celebrate this International Sex
Workers Rights Day

Last week, the Cabinet failed
to approve an amendment to India’s Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Bill
that would have further stigmatized sex workers by criminalizing the
purchase of sexual services. 

This is a major victory for
sex workers and sex work rights advocates, who have been lobbying against
the bill since its conception by India’s Ministry of Women and Child
Development in 2006.    

The bill would have shifted
legislative policy on sex work from tolerance to prohibition by penalizing
clients for visiting brothels.  Other changes included lowering
the rank of police authorized to raid brothels and make arrests, and
extending the detention of sex workers to seven years.  Sex workers
vehemently opposed these measures, which, they believed, would further
marginalize sex workers and violate their human rights.    

While the political appeal
of criminalizing clients of sex workers is clear, there is no evidence
from any country that this is an effective strategy for preventing violence
against sex workers.    

Modeled in Sweden, laws penalizing
the purchase of sex are being adopted in many parts of the world, despite
the fact that a number of studies have shown these laws further marginalize
and endanger, rather than protect, sex workers.  South Korea and
Nepal have imposed criminal sanctions against prostitution in recent
years, and last February, Cambodia
witnessed serious abuses of sex workers rights under a similar law.

India would have gone the same
way but for the resilience and determination of sex worker rights activists
and advocates.  Leading human rights and HIV/AIDS advocates have
long looked to India as a model for empowering sex workers and engaging
them as key players in successful HIV prevention efforts.  Thanks
to last week’s victory, we can continue to push the dialogue beyond
vice and victimhood to support the rights and health of sex workers

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

  • micah-steffes

    It’s so heartening to hear this.

    My boyfriend had been in India for the last 4 or 5 months studying human/sustainable development, peace, and justice. While he was there, he had the opportunity to talk with Devadasi as well as transgendered sex workers. After hearing their stories from him (admittedly, indirectly), it’s so GREAT to hear this

    Thanks for reporting =D

  • invalid-0

    I had the opportunity to visit an HIV/AIDS prevention project in Pune, directed by Pathfinder International, called Mukta, (“freedom”), which not only works to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, but also to empower the sex workers. One could not help but be impressed by the energy and pride of the women who had formed a community to become advocates for their rights. Congratulations on the work to prevent approval to India’s Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Bill.