A three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court on Thursday said the police could not arrest, penalise, harass or victimise a sex worker while raiding a brothel as voluntary sex work is not illegal in the country
In a historical order, the Supreme Court of India recognized sex work as a "profession" and has directed the police to treat sex workers with dignity. The SC also said that equal protection under the law should be provided to them and police should refrain from harassing sex workers.
A Bench comprising Justices BR Gavai, L Nageswara Rao and AS Bopanna said on Thursday that the police cannot arrest, penalise, harass or victimise sex workers while raiding brothels as voluntary sex work is not illegal in the country and only running a brothel is unlawful.
It also ordered that children of sex workers should not be deprived of the mother's care based on the fact that she is in the sex trade.
The apex court also said that a sex worker who lodges a complaint of criminal, sexual or any other offence could not be discriminated and police should take action in accordance with the law. A sex worker who is a victim of sexual assault is entitled to facilities provided to other survivors, including immediate medico-legal care.
Now that prostitution is a legal profession in India, let's take a look at other countries where it is not illegal to engage in sex work.
In a number of European countries including Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria, Greece, Hungary, Latvia and Turkey, prostitution is legal and regulated.
The Netherlands: The Netherlands is one of the first countries in Europe to legalise and regulate prostitution since 2000, even as sex trade was popular in the country for decades. It legalised prostitution with the hope that it would root out organised crime, improve sex workers' access to healthcare, limit human trafficking and make sex work safer. Amsterdam's De Wallen is one of the most famous red-light districts in the country and a famous destination for international sex tourism.
Germany: Germany has a long history of sex tourism. Organised prostitution in Germany dates back to the 13th century. The country legalised prostitution in 2002 and has state-run brothels. Reeperbahn in Hamburg is one of the world's most famous red-light districts. Sex workers in Germany are treated as regular employees and are provided health insurance, have to pay taxes and receive social benefits like pensions. The idea to treat prostitution as a job was to wean women away from pimps who run the sex trade.
New Zealand: New Zealand decriminalised sex work by passing the Prostitution Reform Act in June 2003. Prior to the Act, sex work was illegal in the country. In the 19th century, prostitutes who loitered in public places were fined or imprisoned. Those who behaved in a "riotous or indecent manner" in public places were imprisoned for about three months.
The Crimes Act 1961 made brothel-keeping, procuring sexual intercourse or living on the earnings of prostitution illegal, leading to five years of imprisonment. With growing public awareness of the sex industry, the call for decriminalisation sex work intensified in the 1990s. At present, the country has licensed brothels which operate under public health and employment laws. Sex workers are entitled to all the social benefits.
France: Although prostitution is legal in France, buying of sexual acts in public was outlawed in 2016. The legislation was introduced with the hope to crack down on sex trafficking. While introducing the law, the French government had estimated that 90 percent of the country's 20,000 to 40,000 sex workers in 2016 were victims of sex trafficking networks in Nigeria, China and Romania.
Canada: Prostitution laws in Canada came into effect in 2014, which decriminalised part of the sex trade, but criminalised acts of purchasing sexual services, communicating for offering sexual services, receiving money or other benefits for sexual services and recruiting a person for sex work.
First Published: IST