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Bill amendment seeks to punish sex workers’ clients

A group of ministers recently approved an amendment to the Immoral Trafficking Act giving power to police to book clients of victims for sexual exploitation.
Hindustan Times | By Chetan Chauhan, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 03, 2008 12:34 AM IST

A visit to a brothel or a sex worker may land clients in jail.

A group of ministers headed by Home Minister Shivraj Patil recently approved an amendment to the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act giving power to police to book clients of victims for sexual exploitation. This would curb the demand for trafficked persons for sexual trade, a WCD ministry that has piloted the amendments, said.

The bill has been held up since 2006 when it was first introduced in Parliament because of strong objections from certain sex workers on the clause to book clients. Later, Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal, who is also a lawyer, objected that this clause would not stand legal scrutiny.

The amendments, to be tabled before the Union Cabinet soon, say that the clients found to be exploiting sex workers can be jailed for up to three months and fined up to Rs 20,000 or both for first offence. For second or subsequent offences, the punishment has been increased to six months or fine of Rs 50,000 or both.

The biggest catch is in the new definition of trafficked persons and sexual exploitation. Almost all sex workers, except those from rich families, have been defined as trafficked persons in clause 5 A. Sexual exploitation means seeking sexual favour for consideration in cash or kind.

A WCD ministry said: "Even those who are pushed into prostitution because of economic (poverty) or social vulnerability or for religious reasons have been defined as victims of trafficking in the new definition".

GOM members Sibal and Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss had reservation over the new definition. They said certain parts of section 5 A, especially those referring to ‘abuse of power of position of vulnerability’, does not have sufficient legal clarity. The ministry officials said the definition has been framed as per the UN Convention against Transnational Crime to which India is a signatory.

Ramadoss had objected saying punishing the client would cause sex workers to go underground, which would affect the HIV/ AIDS programme. WCD Minister Renuka Chowdhury, however, said action against clients would curb prostitution, which would help the programme.

Brushing aside the objections, the GoM approved sections 5 A and 5 C as contained in the IITA Amendment Bill 2006.

Section 5 C is about punishment of clients who visit sex workers. The GoM felt that allowing amendments would curb flesh trade without imposing a ban.

WCD ministry officials said that the amendment bill would be soon circulated for Cabinet consideration and were confident that the bill will be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament.

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