Punishing sex buyers will help reduce exploitation of trafficked women | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Punishing sex buyers will help reduce exploitation of trafficked women

Andhra Pradesh’s move to criminalise those sex buyers is a step in the right direction. The new law sought to be enacted by the state will attempt to close the loophole which allows buyers to go free because they plead that they are merely customers and do not fall under the definition of prostitution under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act which necessarily entails an element of commercial exploitation

editorials Updated: Jan 18, 2018 11:26 IST
Prostitutes line the street outside of a Falkland Road Brothel in a red-light neighbourhood in  Mumbai
Prostitutes line the street outside of a Falkland Road Brothel in a red-light neighbourhood in Mumbai(Getty Images)

Sex workers are some of the most exploited and marginalised members of society. Many women have been pushed into the legally murky trade by terrible circumstances, often by coercion and trafficking; many are trapped in a cycle of violence. Andhra Pradesh’s new rule to criminalise those who buy sex rather than focusing on those who sell it is a progressive step in curbing the exploitation of women. The new law sought to be enacted by the state will attempt to close the loophole which allows buyers to go free because they plead that they are merely customers and do not fall under the definition of prostitution under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act which necessarily entails an element of commercial exploitation.

It is estimated that there are about 20 million sex workers in India, of which 16 million women and girls are victims of trafficking. These women are in no position to complain to the police or seek justice for the violence to which they are routinely subjected. Shifting the focus of the law around sex work and prostitution to the buyer will ensure that the responsibility of soliciting sex is shifted to the demand side, and those who encourage the exploitation can be punished instead of victimising the women. Such laws also have the added advantage of not treating women as commodities that can be bought and sold, and penalising those who indulge in such commodification.

While there are laws that attempt to curb prostitution and the running of brothels, so-called red light districts continue to thrive in many cities in India. Individual states taking cognisance of the issue and implement their own laws to reduce the demand for sex work can go a long way not just in ensuring that trafficking and exploitation of women is curbed, but also that those responsible for such exploitation are penalised.