Supreme Court recognizes sex work as a profession
The Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision that prostitution is a profession and that sex workers are entitled to dignity and equal protection under the law. The court ordered police not to intervene with or prosecute consensual sex workers. Six directives were given by a three-judge panel led by Justice L Nageswara Rao to protect the rights of sex workers.
- India has around 800,000 sex workers who are yet to be recognized as legal workers in the country.
- Following COVID-19, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued an advisory asking governments to categorize sex workers as informal workers to protect their rights.
- However, after receiving objections from some social activists who worried the policy would legalize human trafficking, it reversed the advice.
The bench asked the police to refrain from interfering or taking any criminal action against the sex workers as they are entitled to equal protection of the law and criminal law. "It need not be gainsaid that notwithstanding the profession, every individual in this country has the right to a dignified life under Article 21 of the Constitution," it said
The court further ruled that sex workers not be arrested, penalized, harassed, or harmed in brothel raids because voluntary sex work is not illegal, and only running the brothel is. The kid of a sex worker should not be removed from his or her mother just because she works in the sex trade, the court ruled.
According to the SC order, if a kid is discovered living in a brothel or with sex workers, it should not be assumed that the child was trafficked. The court also instructed the police not to discriminate against sex workers who file a complaint, particularly in situations involving sexual offenses. The court said that sex workers should be given all facilities, including medico-legal treatment.
The SC bench also said the media should take utmost care not to divulge the names of sex workers, whether as victims or accused, during arrest, and rescue operations, and not print or broadcast any images that may result in revealing identities.
The bench recommended that sex workers be sent to 'correction homes' for at least two to three years. "If the magistrate decides that the sex worker had consented, they could be let out," the order stated. Justice Rao was certain that the government could not force sex workers to stay in correctional/shelter homes against their will.
The SC also stated that police shouldn't interpret the use of condoms by sex workers as proof of criminal activity. Meanwhile, the court has requested the Centre to respond to these proposals on the next hearing date, July 27.