After months of speculation
and stress, sex workers rights advocates have reason to celebrate this International Sex
Workers Rights Day.
Last week, the Cabinet failed
to approve an amendment to India’s Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Bill
that would have further stigmatized sex workers by criminalizing the
purchase of sexual services.
This is a major victory for
sex workers and sex work rights advocates, who have been lobbying against
the bill since its conception by India’s Ministry of Women and Child
Development in 2006.
The bill would have shifted
legislative policy on sex work from tolerance to prohibition by penalizing
clients for visiting brothels. Other changes included lowering
the rank of police authorized to raid brothels and make arrests, and
extending the detention of sex workers to seven years. Sex workers
vehemently opposed these measures, which, they believed, would further
marginalize sex workers and violate their human rights.
While the political appeal
of criminalizing clients of sex workers is clear, there is no evidence
from any country that this is an effective strategy for preventing violence
against sex workers.
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Modeled in Sweden, laws penalizing
the purchase of sex are being adopted in many parts of the world, despite
the fact that a number of studies have shown these laws further marginalize
and endanger, rather than protect, sex workers. South Korea and
Nepal have imposed criminal sanctions against prostitution in recent
years, and last February, Cambodia
witnessed serious abuses of sex workers rights under a similar law.
India would have gone the same
way but for the resilience and determination of sex worker rights activists
and advocates. Leading human rights and HIV/AIDS advocates have
long looked to India as a model for empowering sex workers and engaging
them as key players in successful HIV prevention efforts. Thanks
to last week’s victory, we can continue to push the dialogue beyond
vice and victimhood to support the rights and health of sex workers