white black legal international law journal ISSN: 2581-8503

Peer-Reviewed Journal | Indexed at Manupatra, HeinOnline, Google Scholar & ROAD



Authored By- Abhinav Yadav & Vasvi Dwivedi







2.     ORIGIN /HISTORY.. 7







8.1      KOLKATA.. 10

8.2      DELHI. 11






13.      SEX-TRAFFICKING.. 14


    15.  CASE LAWS. 16

16.      CONCLUSION.. 16



The current legal framework for sex workers' rights protection through strategies of rescue and rehabilitation is unsuccessful in protecting their interests since it is based on the idea that sex work is immoral. India has not been successful in effectively defending and promoting the human rights of women, especially sex workers in India. This is despite the fact that India has ratified several international covenants on women's rights and that its constitution expressly forbids discrimination and exploitation based on sex and gender. The severity and scope of the violence present in the sex industry, discrimination by law enforcement and the judicial system, exploitation while employed, worries about the health, safety, and security of sex workers and their children, the presence of minors in the sex industry, issues of lack of consent and consultation, extortion and pimping, abdication of self-determination, and psychological abuse are all indications of this sad state of affairs. The study through this paper discusses the rights of sex workers in India, their plight, their contribution to the unofficial economy, and the difficulties they face.


“According to the doctrine of Bhakti, God is held to be “All-Love”. One cannot even say, “I love Him”, for the reason that He is All-Love. There is no love outside of Himself; the love that is in the heart with which you love Him is even He Himself. In a similar way, whatever attractions or inclinations one feels drawn by, are all He Himself. The thief steals, the harlot sells her body to prostitution, the mother loves her child—in each of these too is He!”[1]

  • Swami Vivekananda

Prostitution is the trade or practise of performing sexual services for cash. From the Latin word prostituta, we get the word prostitute. Some sources cite the verb as a compound of "pro" meaning "up front" or "front" and "stituere", defined as "to offer up for sale". Another argument is that pro and statuere are combined to form prostituta (to cause to stand, to station, place erect). Hence, "to set up front for sale" or "to place forward" is a direct translation.


The term "sexual activity" has many different definitions, although it is frequently used to refer to any action involving physical contact with the client (such as sexual intercourse, non-penetrative sex, oral sex, etc.). The necessity of physical touch increases the possibility of disease transmission. Sometimes, prostitution is referred to as commercial sex, sexual services, or hooking. It is sometimes referred to euphemistically as "the world's oldest profession" in the English-speaking world. A person employed in this industry is referred to as a prostitute or, more broadly, a sex worker. Prostitution can take many different forms, and depending on the country (and occasionally the region within a given country), it may be illegal or not, as well as being either an unregulated or regulated profession.


Prostitution is not just practised by women in the twenty-first century; men and transgender people also partake in it, albeit in smaller numbers than women. The largest brothel-based sex business in the nation is located in Mumbai and Kolkata, with over 100,000 sex workers in Mumbai alone. Although prostitution is thought to be the oldest industry in the world, there has historically been debate over whether it is legal. Condemnation has been the prevailing attitude, with prostitution being viewed as sinful and vulgar. As a result of this moral judgement, India has adopted a prohibitionist attitude against prostitution.


The Matsya Purana and the Mahabharata both make reference to invented origin stories for prostitution. Although professional prostitutes are noted in Buddhist literature, later Vedic texts do so as well, both covertly and publicly. A tawaif was a prostitute who served the Indian subcontinent's nobles, especially during the Mughal Empire's rule. Similar to the Japanese geisha tradition, their primary goal was to professionally entertain their guests; while sex was frequently an unintentional byproduct, it was not contractually guaranteed.[2]


Dervish Ismail Agha claims that the masseurs in Turkish baths were mostly young males who assisted in washing customers by soaping and scrubbing their bodies, as documented in the Dellâkname-i Dilküşâ, the Ottoman archives. Also, they were sex workers. The Ottoman literature give information about them, including who they were, what they charged, how frequently they could cause orgasms in their clients, and the specifics of their sexual practices.


It was initially very usual for European troops serving in the presidency army during the East India Company's control in India from 1757 until 1857 to request the services of Indian prostitutes, and they frequently visited local nautch dancers for sex-related purposes. The practise of "bacha bazi," or the prostitution of young boys was reintroduced among Afghans in the twenty-first century. Devadasi girls in India are compelled by their impoverished families to devote themselves to the Hindu deity Renuka. Devadasis were described as "sanctified prostitutes" by the BBC in 2007.


The Supreme Court of India by using the special discretionary powers under the Article 142 of the Indian Constitution has recently recognised sex work as a profession and also observed in its order that the practitioners of sex work are entitled to dignity and equal protection under the law. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recognised sex workers as informal workers[3].



Individuals enter the field for a variety of reasons, with unemployment or a desire to increase the money being the most frequent. Prices for sex labour vary greatly, yet it may be a successful industry. According to a poll of 200 sex workers conducted in 2005, some made at least Rupees 80 per day, while some made Rupees 1700 per day. The position does not require any special training or education, making it a viable source of income for the majority of people. Due to the high demand for sex workers, finding work is also not too difficult. Oftentimes, sex workers have more freedom over when and how often they work, giving them more flexibility with their schedules[4]. Sex workers make a living by selling sexual services. Many sex-workers experience poverty and squalor and have few alternative employment options. Some use sex work as a means of expressing and exploring their sexuality[5].




    1. Discrimination and Stigmatisation: Sex workers have no legal protections, and because their employment is illegal, they are subject to prejudice. These people are despised and have no place in society; frequently, their landlords and even the law punish them severely. While they are not regarded as being in the same category as other workers, they continue to strive for the same human, health, and labour rights as others. For instance, sex workers are particularly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is making most people unemployed. Without clients, they have no money, and their efforts to find new employment are hampered because most employers won't hire them.
    2. Health Benefits: Getting access to necessary health care, such as HIV/AIDS treatment and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, which they are denied, would be the most significant benefit of all[6].



The legal system in India grants numerous rights to prostitutes who engage in the profession voluntarily. They are entitled to enjoy the fundamental rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution because they are citizens of India. The Hon'ble Courts have rendered numerous decisions in these workers' favour and for their benefit. The court in Pankaj Chaudhary & Others v. State (Govt. of NCT. of Delhi) overturned the High Court's decision and highlighted that even if a woman had become accustomed to sexual activity, she still has the right to bodily integrity and the ability to refuse. It was determined that sex workers should be recognised as victims rather than suspects in the case Manoj Shaw and Manoj Kumar Shaw v. State of West Bengal[7].

Rights of children of a sex worker: A child of a sex worker shouldn't be taken away from the mother solely because she works in the sex industry. The fundamental rights to human decency and dignity also apply to sex workers' children. Furthermore, it should not be assumed that a juvenile who is discovered living in a brothel or with sex workers was trafficked. Testing can be done to see if the sex worker's claim that he or she is her son or daughter is true, and if it is, the youngster shouldn't be forced to be separated[8].


There is no research that can tell us the precise number of red-light districts or women engaged in prostitution in India, however, the UNAIDS (The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) produced a pessimistic estimate in 2016 claiming that there were 657,829 prostitutes there. A typical brothel in India may include five to eight young ladies, with two to three of those being under the age of 18 for "premium customers" who can afford to pay Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 per hour. Customers are willing to pay Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 per hour for two to three young women, between the ages of 18 and 25, depending on their condition. Finally, women who are 25 years of age and older work in brothels to earn between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000 per hour. A young woman between the ages of 18 and 25 spends around Rs 1,000 for each customer and must attend to roughly 20 customers every day for quick engagements of 10 minutes each. one can make Rs 100,000 per day by multiplying that by five girls. As a result, this amounts to Rs 3 million each month or Rs 36.5 million a year. There are 188 brothels in the red-light district of Ganga Jamuna in Nagpur, which is currently in the news. Its red-light district is thought to generate over Rs 680 million in annual revenue[9].

    1. KOLKATA - “My name is Sadhana. As a small child, I was fearless. I used to climb trees and pick fruits. Run around and go fishing. I wasn't scared of anyone or anything. When I was 11 my father passed away. My family was left with no money in the village so they moved to Kolkata in search of work. I was struggling as a house cleaner when a local woman offered me a new job. The woman brought me to a quiet Kolkata neighbourhood with a room full of strange men and beer bottles. The job was a lie. I was given a glass of water and I fell unconscious on the floor. I woke up to find that I had been raped. I was now the property, a slave of a private brothel keeper.”[10]


    1. DELHI - “I was still at school when I was brought here. I was promised a job as a bottle washer. I said ‘ok’ but then I was sold into this dirty business. They locked me in a room. The customers then started coming up and I was in the sex business. They told him I was a virgin. So, he paid lots of money. I had never had sex before. In our village that's Taboo. They would have killed me and thrown my body in the river. I was forced into this work. I had my childhood stolen.”[11]


    1. KAMATHIPURA, MUMBAI - “The brothel owner said if I don't work, she will kill me and if I don't do the business she will sell me. I was beaten every day. If I refused. They wouldn't give me any food. When I was 11 years old. I was taken to 14th Lane in Kamathipura. I refused and asked to be put on the train home and the woman they left me with held my hands. Her daughter held my legs down. I was kept inside a cage for the next 5 to 6 months.”[12]

If the government imposed appropriate restrictions on the sex industry, society as a whole would likewise prosper. Legalizing sex work would lead to a general decrease in the amount of crime and violence that now exist in society.


On prostitution itself, the law is ambiguous. The Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act of 1956 is the main statute governing the legal status of sex workers (SITA). This regulation allows for the private practise of prostitution but prohibits the open solicitation of clients. Pimping, brothels, prostitution rings, and other forms of organised prostitution are prohibited. A woman may utilise her body in exchange for financial gain as long as it is done willingly and alone (male prostitution is not recognised by any legislation in India). The law specifically prohibits sex workers from doing their trade within 200 yards of a public area.[13]


The Indian Criminal Code (IPC), which precedes the SITA, is sometimes used to accuse sex workers of imprecise offences like "public indecency" or "public annoyance" without describing what these entail. On May 19, 2022, the Supreme Court of India upheld that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees everyone, including sex workers, the right to dignity and life. Thus, it is forbidden to detain and threaten sex workers. Practices related to brothels remain illegal.


As a result of India's ratification of the United Nations declaration in 1950 in New York on the suppression of trafficking, legislation passed in 1956 was amended in 1986 to create the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, popularly known as the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act (PITA).


Sex Workers: Prostitutes who solicit or seduce will face legal action. Prostitution near any public location or designated area is also punishable for sex workers.


Clients: If a customer participates in sexual activity with a sex worker within 200 yards of a public space or "notified area," he or she is guilty of consorting with prostitutes and may face charges. In the event that the sex worker is younger than 18, the client could potentially face punishment.


Brothels: Landlords and brothel keepers are subject to prosecution because it is against the law to operate one. Another criminal offence is hotel prostitution.


Trafficking and procuring: Anybody who seeks to procure somebody is subject to punishment.


The Supreme Court concluded in 2009 that legalising prostitution was appropriate and set up a group to investigate changing the legislation. The Supreme Court issued an order in 2011 relating to "setting conditions favourable for sex workers to work with dignity" after ruling that the "right to live with dignity" is a constitutional right.


The legalisation of sex work in India was done keeping in mind that the sex workers will enjoy happier lives as a result. Labour rights will be given to sex workers. Sex workers will be allowed to visit the police station without being afraid. Their line of work will be regulated by proper laws. In society, they will be treated with respect. The authorities will have the information necessary to monitor whether any minors are engaged in prostitution. There won't be any more sexually transmitted illnesses because there will be frequent health checks. Due to involvement and restrictions laid down by the government forced prostitution won't exist anymore. There will be fewer instances of trafficking and rape. Sex work shall be deemed to constitute work. The government will be able to charge taxes which will help in the elimination of corruption and bribery. It will provide financial empowerment to the women who are willingly working in this profession[14].


The legalisation of sex work also comes with various drawback suck as nobody can claim that legalising prostitution will put an end to human trafficking. Human trafficking victims are forced to work in a variety of occupations, including child labourers, sex workers, and labourers. The woman who performs sex work will always be thought to be unwell. There will be a need for women’s safety. The worst aspect of legalising prostitution would be the potential increase in child prostitution. Poverty is at its worst in India. Everyone desires financial success. Without understanding the value of education, those who use children as labour may compel them to become prostitutes in order to increase their income. There is a risk that the sex industry will view prostitution as a blessing. Girls will increasingly consider a career in the sex industry. Instead of concentrating on these industries, we should emphasise the value of females' education. In India, adultery is no longer a felony, although it is still a cause of divorce. Because that marriage is a written contract between spouses, it is apparent that if prostitution were to become legal in India, it would have an impact on the relationship between husband and wife. Adultery is viewed as a marital contract violation and a strong reason for divorce. It goes without saying that one of the main drawbacks of prostitution is the detrimental effects that unrestricted prostitution will have on young people. Everyone in the nation will know who is working as a sex worker if prostitution is legalised, which could lead to prejudice against that individual and a decline in his moral character[15].


USA - Purchasing or selling sex services is prohibited in the country, with the exception of Nevada, where some brothels are permitted. Prostitution, solicitation, and agreeing to participate in an act of prostitution are considered crimes in the majority of jurisdictions. The majority of U.S. jurisdictions impose severe fines and jail time for pandering, obtaining, and promoting prostitution. In the United States, it is against the law to recruit and transport persons through coercion, deception, or force. It is also against the law to harbour or support prostitutes.[16]


U.K. - Prostitution itself is not criminal in the United Kingdom, according to Canadian legislation, but prostitution-related acts are prohibited. Working as an escort or a private prostitute is not illegal, but it is against the law to cause, encourage, or control prostitution for one's own advantage. Criminal offences include "kerb crawling," pimping, owning a brothel, soliciting sex on the street, and human trafficking.


Despite being against the law in India, human trafficking is nevertheless a major issue. Persons are routinely trafficked illegally through India for the purposes of forced or bonded labour and commercial sexual exploitation. In addition to being used as labour, men and boys may also be sexually exploited by traffickers as gigolos, massage therapists, escorts, etc. For women and children who are victims of sex trafficking, India serves as a source, destination, and transit country. For the purpose of sexual exploitation in the Middle East, Indian women are transported there. The majority of India's trafficking issues are internal, and the most susceptible groups are those from the most economically and socially disadvantaged socioeconomic strata—those who belong to tribal communities. According to reports, thousands of unregulated labour placement firms use deceptive employment promises to entice adults and children into sex trafficking.[17]


According to experts, sex trafficking affects millions of women and children in India. In India, sex trafficking affects a large number of women and girls, primarily from Nepal and Bangladesh as well as Central Asia, Africa, and Asia, especially the Rohingya and other minority communities from Burma. Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat, Hyderabad, and the India-Nepal border are popular locations for both domestic and international victims of female trafficking.


MORALITY: As a result of this moral criticism, India has adopted a prohibitionist stance regarding prostitution. The provisions of the 1956 Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act provide as proof of this. Though imperfectly defined, morality policy often refers to any area of public policy where ideology and sentiment take precedence over logic and reason. Any effort to limit access to sexual services might be interpreted as a bid to establish moral distinctions between "good" and "bad" behaviour on the grounds that the monetization of sexual relations is immoral or wicked.


Given that public opinion is regarded as being equally valid as the opinions of academics or researchers in this morally dubious subject, this given "expert" or close knowledge of the sex industry is not necessarily adequate to substitute the strongly held moral beliefs of politicians. from the standpoint of the policy maker, there are no absolute rights and wrongs, but diverse perspectives on the ethics and morality of selling sex.[18]


LEGALITY: Voluntary sex work is legally permitted in India, but sexual trade is prohibited by law. "The statute makes any sex work that takes place within 200 metres of a public area, including hotels, illegal. In addition, the legislation punishes any organisation that runs or knowingly encourages prostitution on its property and prosecutes any adult over the age of eighteen who relies on a prostitute's income. Yet, it is crucial to stress that the inclusion of this practise in sacred writings, such as the Vedas and the Arthashastra, suggests that prostitution was not an illegal activity. Instead, it was a well-known, commonplace pastime. This should make people wonder the next time "culture" is used as an excuse to degrade sex workers.



In the case of "BUDHADEV KARMASKAR VS. STATE OF WEST BENGAL[19]," a sex worker was brutally murdered for refusing to engage in sexual activity with the appellant, which prompted the courts to take into account the broader picture of the plight of sex workers, prostitutes, and the forced victims of sex trade in society in addition to convicting the appellant for the act he had committed and challenged to be innocent of. This resulted in the landmark decision of the Indian Supreme Court protecting the lives of sex workers by giving a broad interpretation to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and stabilising their right to the dignity of life, which is available to them and their descendants as well.


The Bombay High Court ruled in September 2020 that sex work was not a legal offence and that an adult woman had the right to choose her career. As a result, the court ordered the immediate release of three women who had been imprisoned in a state prison. Now, in 2022, a three-judge panel of the supreme court issued a landmark decision that recognised the profession of sex work and said that those who engage in it are entitled to respect and equal legal protection. The supreme court clarified that voluntary sex labour was not against the law. The supreme court clarified that voluntary sex labour was not against the law. When a sex worker reports an offence, the police must take it seriously and follow the law. When a brothel is raided, the sex workers involved should not be arrested. No child of a sex worker should be separated from the mother simply because she is in the sex trade. The police should treat all sex workers with dignity and should not abuse them[20].


Indian literature and art have always dealt with the subject of prostitution. The ten-act Sanskrit comedy Mrichakatika, composed by Hudraka in the second century BC, depicts the tale of Vasantsena, a well-known courtesan. There are around 42 million prostitutes in the world now (though most of Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa lack data, studied countries in that large region rank as top sex tourism destinations). Around $100 billion is thought to be the annual global revenue generated by prostitutes. An essential component of India's informal economy is the sex industry.


Since gaining independence, India has experienced times of economic expansion, modernization, scientific and technological advancements, and large-scale peace initiatives; however, its institutional structures have not adequately addressed micro-level development and the issues of its most disadvantaged populations. As a result, while being an essential component of India's informal sector economy, sex workers have little voice due to patriarchal power systems. Despite the fact that they lack healthcare coverage and labour rights, their life histories are not taken into account when making laws or policies. Sex workers continue to be generally excluded from mainstream society despite the battles of comparable disadvantaged groups challenging prevailing concepts of growth, but there is an urgent need to pay heed to such voices.[21]


Although though India has a strong constitution and legal framework in place as well as numerous organisations and commissions to address the issue of human rights violations, it has been unsuccessful in ensuring that its citizens—in this case, sex workers—have access to the basic freedoms. Human rights education and awareness campaigns would do much to improve the situation of sex workers. Most of us have moral filters through which we see sex work. What we fail to understand is that it is a privilege in and of itself to challenge the morality of the profession. For the vast majority, the issue is one of maintaining their way of life and providing for those who depend on them.


[1] V. (2018, April 17). Swami Vivekananda’s Quotes On Prostitution - VivekaVani. VivekaVani. https://vivekavani.com/swami-vivekananda-quotes-prostitution/


[2] Prostitution in India - Wikipedia. (2015, November 28). Prostitution in India - Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_India


[3] Recognition of Sex Work as a Profession. (2022, May 26). Drishti IAS. https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-analysis/recognition-of-sex-work-as-a-profession

[4] clinical psychologist and former researcher at SWEAT, I. P. (2001, March 7). Why do people become sex workers? | Health24. Health24. https://www.news24.com/health24/mental-health/living-with-mental-illness/sex-workers-who-and-why-20120721

[5] Clearing Up Some Myths About Sex Work. (n.d.). Understanding Sex Work in an Open Society - Open Society Foundations. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/explainers/understanding-sex-work-open-society

[6] International Sex Workers Day 2020: Problems And Challenges Sex Workers Face Everywhere. (2020, June 2). India.com. https://www.india.com/festivals-events/international-sex-workers-day-2020-problems-and-challenges-sex-workers-face-everywhere-4046995/

[7] RIGHTS OF SEX WORKERS IN INDIA - Jus Corpus. (2021, December 15). Jus Corpus. https://www.juscorpus.com/rights-of-sex-workers-in-india/

[8] Recognition of Sex Work as a Profession. (2022, May 26). Drishti IAS. https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-analysis/recognition-of-sex-work-as-a-profession

[9] Sex Workers In India – Burning Issues – Free PDF Download. (2022, February 4). StudyIQ. https://www.studyiq.com/articles/sex-workers-india-burning-issues-free-pdf/

[10] How I Was Sold to a Kolkata Brothel | Survivor Stories | IJM Australia. (2022, October 12). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Q1nWgNlmzc

[11] Interviewing a Trafficking Victim in India | Ross Kemp Extreme World. (2016, March 24). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlYHmSEWQAM

[12] Caged until “broken”: life for Mumbai’s prostitutes. (2014, September 8). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybgnSEx_-SA

[13] Prostitution in India - Wikipedia. (2015, November 28). Prostitution in India - Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_India


[14] Legal aspects related to prostitution in India - iPleaders. (2020, May 22). iPleaders. https://blog.ipleaders.in/legal-aspects-related-to-prostitution-in-india/

[15] Biswas, S. (2021, January 21). 8 Pros and Cons of legalising Prostitution & ndash; Legal Study Material. Legal Study Material. https://legalstudymaterial.com/prostitution-and-pros-and-cons-of-legalising-it/

[16] Countries and Their Prostitution Policies - Prostitution - ProCon.org. (n.d.). Prostitution. https://prostitution.procon.org/countries-and-their-prostitution-policies/

[17] Prostitution in India - Wikipedia. (2015, November 28). Prostitution in India - Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_India


[18] SEX WORK IN INDIA: LEGALITY V. MORALITY. (n.d.). SEX WORK IN INDIA: LEGALITY V. MORALITY. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sex-work-india-legality-v-morality-fastrack-legal-solutions

[19] Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of W.B., 2022 SCC OnLine SC 704, order dated 19-05-2022

[20] SEX WORK IN INDIA: LEGALITY V. MORALITY. (n.d.). SEX WORK IN INDIA: LEGALITY V. MORALITY. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sex-work-india-legality-v-morality-fastrack-legal-solutions

[21] The Invisible Voices of India’s Informal Sector Sex Workers. (2021, March 22). South Asia@LSE. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/southasia/2021/03/22/the-invisible-voices-of-indias-informal-sector-sex-workers/



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