India should criminalise buying of sex and strengthen its anti-trafficking laws, a global rights watchdog has said.
In a statement issued on the eve of UN General Assembly debate on steps needed to stop trafficking, Equality Now on Monday urged Indian government to take steps for early passage of amendments to the 1956 Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA), which would involve a crackdown on buyers of sex.
The desired changes, it stressed, would be a positive step in stopping trafficking in women and children.
The organisation regretted that the amendments, which recognised sexual exploitation as inherent in prostitution, were "languishing for two years with no end in sight," mostly because of ill-advised resistance from HIV/AIDS lobby.
The amendments, it said, would decriminalise women in prostitution but criminalise the "real and often invisible perpetrators" the buyers of prostitution, pimps and brothel owners.
The HIV/AIDS lobby mistakenly believed that targeting demand would curtail use of condom to prevent the spread of the disease, it said.
"The grim reality, however, is that women in prostitution are often unable to negotiate condom use and are at high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. As one Indian woman named Beenu, who is in prostitution says, 'Few people agree to use a condom. And if they don't, I cannot force them.'"
The most effective way to protect women like Beenu would be by curtailing the commercial sex industry, Equality Now stressed.
Referring to UN debate, the organisation warned that too much had been said about trafficking and much-needed money was spent in talking about it. However, little else had been done to end the scourge.
"Extensive rhetoric has been generated by UN conferences like the Vienna Forum (earlier this year) and standards have already been set in international treaties like the UN Protocol to Prevent Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, adopted in 2000.
"But what is lacking is the political will to curb the multi-billion dollar industry," it added and called on the States to make specific commitments, enact strong laws and support grassroots anti-trafficking groups.
The global body argued sex trafficking disproportionately affected women and girls who constitute 80 per cent of the victims.
A majority of them are trafficked into the commercial sex trade.
The demand for prostitution, it said, is the driving force for the trafficking of women and girls for sexual purposes.
Prostitution preys on the most vulnerable women and children who are poor, of colour, from "lower" castes, and/or immigrants, it emphasised.
Instead of controlling prostitution, legalisation has led to a "disastrous outbreak of increased exploitation of women in the sex trade, sex trafficking and other related crimes," Taina Bien-Aim Executive Director of Equality Now said.
"In fact the German government and the Mayor of Amsterdam (where prostitution is legal) on separate occasions noted that their prostitution laws have not been effective in boosting transparency in brothels. Amsterdam is now working to shut down a third of its brothels," the organisation said.