Pimps, traffickers and clients would face stiff punishment under the proposed changes in the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, which is likely to be tabled in Parliament in the coming monsoon session.
The amendments will ensure stringent punishment for traffickers and bring those soliciting sex workers within the reach of the law.
The basic aim of the amendment is to protect sex workers from further exploitation. Since there are loopholes in the existing Act dealing with pimps, clients and traffickers, the government has tried to plug the loopholes.
However there is a contrary view that the amendments are going to affect the livelihood of the sex workers, the purpose is to target the traffickers and pimps, Manjula Krishnan, advisor to the Women and Child Development Ministry told PTI.
Section 8 and Section 20 in the existing Act would be deleted in the proposed amendment. While Section 8 deals with banning seduction or soliciting in public places, Section 20 empowers the police to remove a sex worker from any place and imposing a fine on her.
Till now the sex workers were targeted but once the amendments are enacted, it would not be possible. The amendments also have provisions for in-camera proceedings to protect the identity and dignity of the victim.
Another important provision in the proposed Act is to redefine the meaning of "child." At present one can be called child till attaining the age of 16 years and from 16 to 18 years of age she is called minor. However, the word minor has been deleted and she will be called child till attaining the age of 18 under the proposed Act.
PM Nair of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said though the existing Act has provisions for dealing with traffickers, the proposed amendments would make it more stringent. While the punishment has been proposed to be enhanced from five years to 10 years, the penalty has been hiked to Rs one lakh.
It has also been suggested to set up nodal agencies at state level to monitor the implementation of the Act." "The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 22, 2006 and then it was referred to the parliamentary standing committee for further examination. The committee submitted the report on November 23 last year with some suggestions which were incorporated, said Krishnan. "It has been sent to the law ministry for final approval and we hope to table it in parliament in the monsoon session"
Before finalising the Bill, the ministry held consultations with many NGOs involved in the welfare of sex workers.
KK Mukherjee of Gram Niyojan Kendra, an NGO, said "we have submitted our views to the committee seeking punishments for clients because it is they who are patronising the profession. Though there is no definite data on the number of sex workers, it is estimated to be about three million in the country."
However, Khairati Bhola of Patita Uddhar Sabha differed. The move to make clients punishable would make the lives difficult for sex workers and it could force the profession underground. "This would also give police a chance to fleece the clients."