India’s Supreme Court has ordered police to refrain from interfering and taking criminal action against consenting sex workers.
The court added that “prostitution is a profession and sex workers are entitled to dignity and equal protection under the law.”
It said: “Sex workers are entitled to equal protection of the law. Criminal law must apply equally in all cases on the basis of age and consent. When it is clear that the sex worker is an adult and is participating with consent, the police must refrain from interfering or taking any criminal action. 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.”
The bench added that sex workers should not be arrested, penalised, harassed, or victimised through raids on brothels because voluntary sex work is not illegal and only running the brothel is unlawful.
A sex worker’s child should not be deprived of her mother’s care “on the ground that she is in the sex trade,” the court said. “Basic protection of human decency and dignity extends to sex workers and their children.”
The court also instructed police not to discriminate against sex workers who lodge a complaint, if the offence against them is of sexual nature. Sex workers who are victims of sexual assault should be provided with every facility, including immediate medico-legal care.
“It has been noticed that the attitude of the police to sex workers is often brutal and violent. It is as if they are a class whose rights are not recognised,” the court said.
The court added media should take “utmost care to not reveal the identities of sex workers, during arrest, raid and rescue operations, whether as victims or accused and not publish or telecast any photo that would result in disclosure of such identities.”
The United Nations estimates there were 657,829 prostitutes in the country as of 2016. Other unofficial estimates have calculated India has roughly 3–10 million prostitutes.
India is widely regarded as having one of the world’s largest commercial sex industry. It has emerged as a global hub of sex tourism, attracting sex tourists from wealthy countries.