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Bombay HC’s Verdict On Sex Work Not Being A Crime Is A Welcome Step

Posted: September 29, 2020

Bombay HC observed that prostitution is not a criminal offence thus, sex workers cannot be convicted under it. This is what it means.

Last September, the Mumbai police arrested and forcibly detained three women at a correctional facility after they raided a guest house. The Bombay High Court has ordered immediate release of the three sex workers. Bombay High Court judge Justice Prithviraj Chavan observed the fact that prostitution is not a criminal offence under the law.

Under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956, prostitution is not a criminal offence. Thus, sex workers cannot be convicted under it.

What is the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956?

The Act was enacted in 1956 to ‘provide pursuance of the International Convention’ and was signed at New York on 9th May 1950. This Act comes under the Ministry of Women and Child Development and under it, prostitution is not a criminal offence.

However, sexual exploitation or abuse of a person for commercial purpose and seduction is punishable under the law. In other words, one cannot earn his bread or make money by exploiting a person or abusing him/her, which we often witness in many cases.

Is the verdict a symbol of progress?

The three women were picked up by the police last September in a raid at a guest house and  were sent to the correction facility. Following this, the three women filed a plea at the Bombay High Court. They challenged the order passed by the Metropolitan Magistrate, Mazgaon, that upheld their detention at the correctional facility against their wish.

The Bombay High Court said that as adults, the women have every right to choose and practice their own desired vocation. Coercing a person or running a brothel is punishable under the law, but prostitution is not identified as an offence.

On the one hand, the verdict upholds a woman’s will to freely practice her profession. And on the other, it also makes it clear that sex workers are not committing an illegal act, so long as they consent to it.

While sex-trafficking is immoral and punishable by the law, practicing prostitution with the sex-worker’s consent is the recognition of the person’s fundamental rights. This verdict also empowers women to practice their own desired profession with the support of the law and the judiciary. And it liberalises the thoughts and stereotypes of the society.

Picture credits: Still from movie Lakshmi (2014)

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Anamika is an English literature student with a strong inclination towards feminist literature, feminist literary

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