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Unregulated Sex Work in India

Sex Work has had a notable presence in India since ancient times. From the age of the Mughal Empire, servants who specialized in recreational activities like dancing and singing were employed for sexual services. Japanese women were used as sex workers during the 16th and 17th centuries in Goa, a Portuguese colony. 


During the British Raj, brothels were maintained by the British Military itself. Most of the 'red-light districts' of India developed during this time. Red-light districts are areas with a high concentration of sex work and prostitution-related businesses; some known red-light districts in India are located in Kolkata, Mumbai, and New Delhi. While the number of workers in the sex work industry has increased, the number of people sex-trafficked has also increased drastically. Currently, prostitution is legal in some forms across all states in India. 


The principal law around sex work is the Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act (SITA). Per this law, sex workers can practice their trade privately; soliciting and seducing people in public places is illegal. Organized prostitution like brothels and pimping is criminal, and prostitution close to a general area. Sex workers are also not protected under common labor laws.


Since ancient times, the sex work industry has had customers, but stigma and discrimination from customers and the general public are expected. Sex work is criminal in multiple countries for reasons such as being immoral or dangerous to sex workers and clients. Due to improper recognition by the law, especially in India, sex workers face violence, discrimination, and vulnerability from customers, non-state actors, and sometimes even the police. 


Additionally, sex workers also have constrained access to healthcare facilities due to their occupation, especially in countries where sex work is illegal. The legal coverage of sex work in India is so low that even male prostitution isn't recognized.

For many people, sex work is their primary source of income, due to which they do anything, even put their life on the line to make money. Due to their desperation to make a living, sex workers also have unsafe sex as customers offer more money. Sex workers who face harassment don't file charges, leaving them open to abuse. 


Child prostitution is also a big issue in South African and Asian countries. Prostituted children go through a lot; they are often victims of abuse, harassment, and extreme trauma. Most of them are forced into prostitution to survive, as they can not procure necessities like food and water. The situation is so bad that sometimes parents sell their children to make money.

Compared to other western and European countries, the governmental coverage of the sex work industry in India is not much. Even preventing illegal practices in the sex work industry is improperly addressed. 


Multiple Nordic and European countries follow the "Nordic model" approach to prostitution. Here, the direct sale of sex work by sex workers is permitted; however, pimping, brothels, and similar third-party services are illegal. Even though this allowed a certain level of freedom for sex workers, multiple reports of assault and harassment from the police exist. It also leads to social stigmatization and decreased access to health services. 


Legalizing sex work can have many unprecedented benefits, which can improve the lives of sex workers and benefit the government. By decriminalizing sex work, workers can better access healthcare and legal services. Black markets for sex work exist globally; most of them are bad for sex workers. Legalization helps end reliance on the black market for sex workers. It can also help better enforce proper practices within the industry as it can encourage reporting actual criminal behavior. Reduction in STIs and STDs is also reported. 


Sex work can also be taxed, providing revenue to the government; a great example in the Netherlands, which legalized sex work in 2000. Due to this, sex workers and people working in the industry, in general, have seen multiple benefits, the most notable being the increased safety of sex workers. Sex work is a globally practiced activity, legal or illegal. It is time to move past the old idea of it being immoral and instead embrace it as a profession that can have various benefits.


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