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Voluntary sex work out of criminal law ambit?

delhi Updated: Feb 18, 2013 02:06 IST
Nagendar Sharma

The government has decided not to treat voluntary sex workers above the age of 18 years as victims of trafficking, in its new definition of the offence in criminal law.

Following objections by human rights and women organisations, the government is set to delete the term 'prostitution' as one of the forms of exploitation which constitutes the offence of trafficking in the Indian Penal Code, HT has learnt.

Criminal Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, which became a law on February 4 had defined trafficking by which a person "recruits, transports, harbors, transfers or receives a person or persons" by using force, threats, fraud, abducting, inducing, or abusing one's power for the purpose of exploitation."

It stated that "exploitation shall include prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation…and the consent of the victim is immaterial in a determination of the offence of trafficking."

This was based on Justice JS Verma panel's recommendation for overhauling Section 370 IPC, with a new definition of trafficking. It, however, clarified later that sex workers legally allowed to carry out their profession were not intended to be disturbed by its report.

"Forced prostitution should be treated as a crime, and consent to a crime should not be a defence in case of minors, but this provision should not mix voluntary sex work with trafficking into forced prostitution," Justice Verma panel clarified.

It further stressed the move was aimed at protecting women and children from becoming victims of trafficking. It also clarified that amended law ought not to be interpreted to permit law enforcement agencies to harass sex workers, who undertake activities out of their own free will, and their clients.

"Sections immediately following trafficking in the IPC deal with offences like selling minors for sex and forcing them into prostitution, therefore, voluntary sex work needs to be separated from these," said a government official.