ibnlive » India

Aug 07, 2008 at 10:03am IST

Oldest debate: to legalise prostitution or not?

New Delhi: It’s a debate possibly as old as profession itself. There is now a renewed call to legalise prostitution. Also, the move to penalise clients visiting sex workers is inviting criticism. The Director General of National AIDS Control Organisation has said this will only push the trade underground. So to ensure that sex workers’ health can be monitored and there is no exploitation, there is a need to legalise the trade.

Programme Director for Durbar Mahila Swamanvay Committee Bharati Dey voiced the demands of lakhs of sex workers across the country when she said, “We will get PF, medical insurance and working hours will also be fixed for sex workers.”

Led by the sex workers of Sonagachi in Kolkata, many are demanding that prostitution be legalised and treated at par with other professions. They also want to be free of extortion and abuse from the police and brothel owners. But this fight for legitimacy is being described by some as a sanction for exploitation.

The anti-legalisation groups say that the move will mean giving legal and social sanction to human rights violation.

Executive Director, Shakti Vahini, Ravi Kant said, “We have conducted so many rescue operations and no victim says legalise my rape, legalise human rights violation. There are lots of people from source to destination who make a profit in this trade, only they want this trade to thrive.”

And it isn't just brothel owners and pimps he's talking about, activists say foreign funding coming into anti-HIV programmes also drive some parties to lobby hard for legalisation.

Social activist Madhu Kishwar said, “Can a man sell his daughter into the flesh trade legally? It is politically fashionable to say legalise but it’s the most demeaning thing that one can do.”

On Delhi's infamous GB road, Nimmi Bai, who has walked the streets for 45 years says she has few illusions about their rehabilitation.

“The government has been unable to give employment to hundreds of educated youth in this country. You think they will give us jobs?” Nimmi Bai asked.

Even while the fight for respect continues, Nimmi Bai knows the world's oldest profession can never really be shut down.

“If they stop this trade, girls will be picked up from houses. It will be difficult for women to walk on the streets. We save them due to our profession,” she said.

(With inputs from Sougata Mukhopadhyay in Kolkata)

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