The Prostitute Dilemma – Legalization of Prostitution and its effect on Human Trafficking

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The right to bodily integrity is one of the fundamental rights in the constitution of India. In Justice K. S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. vs Union of India and Ors. The court held that the Right to Privacy includes the concept of bodily integrity. It means that one has the autonomy to use their body in their own desired way. In Indian society, the prostitute is prejudiced. During the Durga puja, several sacred items are collected and used to make the idol of Durga, including soil from the bank of the Ganga River. Ironically for the puja, the soil is collected from the door of prostitutes.

Prostitution in India is an old practice. Even the Hindu mythologies consist of various references to Apsaras. The devadasi system existed in the pre-colonial era that involved the Hindus giving their female child as a sign of devotion. However, the Britishers introduced a system of exploitation that has led the priests to mishandle these women. Thus, leaving them at the peril of sexual exploitation and poverty. It is an early form of Prostitution, present in India.

Although prostitution was present in India from Vedic time to the Mughal era, its existence has not been recognized even in modern times. According to the laws, prostitution is not illegal per se but is prohibited in public places. Official figures show that there are above 800,000 sex workers in India. The Covid-19 pandemic has also harmed the profession of prostitution. Therefore, the National Human rights Commission has urged the government to recognize sex workers as informal sector workers and provide them with welfare benefits.

Defining Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a kind of organized crime and a modern type of slavery. International Labor organization shows that approx. 2.5 million people are trafficked in the world at a given point in time. Human trafficking is considered a serious problem in all countries and therefore the countries consistently work on ways to diminish it. Trafficking is mostly done for the reason of engaging in commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor. Sexual trafficking includes threats, violence, and debt bondage to pressure victims to indulge in commercial sex against their consent.

Trafficked prostitute/sex workers form a higher equilibrium as compared to other forms of prostitution and have an increasing scale effect on the frequency of international prostitution trafficking. Many callous people have turned prostitution into a business, and they have chosen the incorrect path to grow their business methods, such as kidnapping and forcing people to migrate. Persuade them to take them to a higher level and turn them into a prostitute. This has had badly impacted the poor, who, due to their lack of economic resources, easily deceive them in order to make some money. The film ‘Mardani’ is a great example of human trafficking and prostitution, in which they compel young girls to be a part of their business and then exploit them by selling them to make money.

Recruiting Prostitute

There are various ways of recruitment of sex slaves, these are given below –

  • Financial Burden – The economic burden is one of the most significant reasons behind sex trafficking and allures women to get into this vicious cycle of human trafficking Those women who don’t have financial stability or job security easily fall into the trap of sex trafficking. Sometimes jobs calming to provide economic benefits are false. Even though people know that such jobs are fake but still they have no other option, get involved in it. The country, Nigeria is a big recruitment center for sex trafficking. As the country is very poor, the people of the country have bare economic opportunities and are highly uneducated. Due to this Nigeria fits the demand of trafficking victims.
  • Abduction – Though media portray abduction as a lingering method of sex trafficking in reality it is not the same. This is due to the reason that it takes a long to travel to the destination and there are chances that the victim might escape. However, there are still some cases of sex trade due to abduction.
  • Prostitution on the false pretext of marriage – In many countries still, some women face oppression, disrespect, and inequality. Therefore, they easily get convinced in such countries for sexual intercourse for the pretext of marriage.
  • Recruitment through previous sex workers – Not only through sex traders but sex trafficking also takes place through women. This fact cannot be denied that women as a source of trafficking is increasing and is very rampant.

Debates on Prostitution

Despite the fact that society is progressing and claims to be free from conservatism, but in real terms, the picture is quite different. There is still the presence of some evils in society. One such unavoidable problem is Prostitution. Prostitution is still a reality and there is no such effective way to curb it. The formation of Prostitution has changed over time but the viewpoint with which it is seen remains the same. If any prostitute sees in the eyes of men in public, it is considered that she is signaling for sexual activity. Precisely, this is the perception of prostitution in India.

Moreover, Prostitution, specifically targets the vulnerable, such as those children and women, which violates their basic human rights. There is a very limited scope of sex education, primarily in India, which makes it evident that sex is viewed as taboo. Legalizing prostitute or sex workers is considered to be blasphemous. This taboo persists in transphobia and homophobia. As an example, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code has been declared unconstitutional and has been decriminalized but in spite of that, it is not completely enacted. Despite having a long history of prostitution, even from the times of ancient and medieval Buddhist literature, sex workers are regarded with abomination and hatred.

Rendering a Legal Status to the Prostitute

Prostitution exists globally and it is not limited to India and rather is a global phenomenon. The US legal defines prostitution as “the commission by a person of any natural or unnatural sexual act, deviate sexual intercourse, or sexual contact for monetary consideration or [some] other things of value”. Therefore, a prostitute is a person who indulges in sexual activities for consideration of money or other goods. Most of the countries around the globe contemplate sex workers as a social evil of society and outcast them.

Moreover, the graver problem is that the punishment for prostitution is given to the prostitute or sex workers and not to the clients or to the brothel owners. There are two ways in which prostitution takes place; either by consent or through trafficking. Voluntarily prostitution is mostly because of financial burden, deficiency in education, and emotional and physical exploitation. Prostitution through trafficking means without any consent. However, today’s modern world has condemned the practice of prostitution and has also urged the government to take proactive measures in this regard. Also, prostitutes should be made aware of their rights so that if there’s an infringement of their rights, they move to the court, for the remedy. Therefore, the legalization of prostitution will provide a safe environment for women.

The important question here is that will the prevalence of human trafficking rise as the scope of prostitution grows greater and gets legalized?

Is the grass greener on the flip side?

One of the main problems involved in prostitution is that there is an immense risk to both the brothel owners and the traffickers. There are two risks that brothel owners face, due to the illegality of prostitution. Firstly, the risk is involved in the supply of prostitution as it is illegal. Secondly, the risk is also present in the direct association with the direct supply of prostitutes. If prostitution gets legalized the risk prostitute supply will cease to exist. The only risk which is present is the direct association with the supply of prostitutes. However, in most cases, the brothel owners deceit police by making them believe that consent and will are involved in prostitution. Additionally, brothels owners have a connection with legal authorities to pay no heed to the activities of the brothel owner by giving the bribe.

Another cause why brothel owners engage trafficked victims is that the cost to employ a trafficked prostitute is comparatively lesser. So, in spite of the opening payment, there is no such labor cost. Thus, this provides an edge to the brothel owners to engage trafficked sufferers as it gives them more profits. Moreover, the market plays a dominant role to determine the supply of prostitution. A variety of ‘bodies’ is preferred over other bodies. For example, in India Nepalese prostitutes have a high demand. Thus, these preferences are dealt with by brothel owners easily by employing the trafficked victims.

If prostitution becomes legal, it will increase human trafficking and be even worse for women’s safety, as it will increase the rate of kidnapping and rape as more girls are pushed to continue their profession. Women have done exceptionally well in their carrier up to this point, and legalizing prostitution will not be a significant step toward women’s empowerment. Prostitution can have an effect on marriage since it removes emotional connectivity between couples because they don’t perceive sex to be emotional connectivity and instead focus on their relationship to grow. Sex will be viewed as a come-and-go component rather than emotional support.


There is a lot of discussion on the legal status of prostitution. Therefore, it is thought to regulate the activities of prostitution. Countries such as Denmark, Canada, France, Wales, Germany, etc. have already legalized prostitution. There are several benefits attached to the legalization, such as protection of minors, reduction in the spread of STDs due to regular checks up, decrease in the number of sexual assault and rape, right to use body according to own will.

However, the legalization of prostitution would at first enlarge the market for sex services. Therefore, the demand for prostitution will upsurge significantly, thus increasing the supply for such services. Also, more brothels owners will look to take advantage of the enhanced demand of sex workers and will also maximize their profits.

Thus, the legalization of prostitution will increase sex trafficking. The Indian laws of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act passed in 1956 is also not much effective. This law states that prostitution is not allowed in public but it is still allowed in private. Prostitution is an old age profession, and in today’s modern world it has become a business. Thus, it will be untutored to not shed light on this topic. Therefore, it is required to deal with this issue in a very appropriate way. The progressive society of India should not just be limited to the headlines but also to reality.

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