The Women and Child Development Ministry’s proposal to amend the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956 to curb trafficking in women and children has turned a blind eye towards cases where women willingly indulge in “commercial sex”.
Although the amendments extend protection to women and children trafficked for prostitution, the deletion of Section 8 from the Act will now also protect a woman entertaining a “client” for commercial gains on her volition. This section prohibits seducing or soliciting for the purpose of prostitution and empowers the police to arrest persons who solicit prostitution. With the deletion of this provision, women or children forced into prostitution will be treated as victims and no longer be arrested.
And while the ministry continues to ban organised prostitution, it has failed to take into account the emerging trend of women operating individually. Legal experts and police officials say the amendments will grant legal status to consensual sex for commercial gains.
Former Chief Metropolitan Magistrate of Delhi, Prem Kumar, says: “The proposed amendments are in spirit with the objective not to treat trafficked women as accused. But when Section 8 is removed, how do policy makers take care of women who deliberately get involved in prostitution. It seems policy makers have become more liberal to this part.”
Supreme Court advocate Aparna Bhat admits that cases where a woman is a consenting partner will no longer be covered under the proposed law. However, she says the crackdown on the client, provided under the proposed Section 5 (c), might indirectly prohibit consensual “commercial sex”. It was Bhat’s petition that raised the issue of how trafficked women are exploited and victimized in the organized trade of prostitution.
Senior advoate Siddhartha Luthra sums up by saying the government might not have morally permitted commercial sex but with the new amendments, it seems to have allowed it legally. Ranjana Kumari, who heads a rape crisis intervention centre in Delhi, defends the proposed amendments. According to her, 90 per cent of women in this trade are forced into it and “if in a given situation 10 per cent women are indulging willingly, who can stop them?”