New formulation targets sexual exploitation and not adult consensual sex work

Sex workers and women’s rights activists across India have welcomed the Government’s move to drop the word “prostitution” as exploitation from the amended Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code. The new formulation targets sexual exploitation and not adult consensual sex work.

The Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2013, passed by the Lok Sabha recognises an important distinction and clarifies the position conflating consensual adult sex work and the offence of sex trafficking by inserting a new definition of exploitation. The expression exploitation shall include any act of physical exploitation or any form of sexual exploitation, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, or the forced removal of organs.”

“This formulation clarifies the Indian Government’s position of removing adults voluntarily involved in sex work from the ambit of criminalisation,” said Meena Seshu from the National Network of Sex workers.

All India Network of Sex Workers adviser Dr. S. Jana said: “By removing prostitution from the language of the law, the Government has given a new lease of life to people in sex work of their own volition and enables them to seek the protection of law in the event of violence within sex work.”

“The distinction between sexual exploitation and consensual adult sex work is very significant as it enables the sex workers and their advocates to legally contest oppressive and forced sex work towards creation of safe and dignified work conditions for sex workers,” said Partners in Law and Development’s Madhu Mehra.

Legislations such as the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act have been criticised by human rights activists, organisations and sex workers on the ground that the legal provisions have given law enforcement, unbridled powers of arresting and detaining consenting adult sex workers. “Due to ambiguity within law, adult consenting sex workers were the first targets rather than focusing on arresting traffickers. We are relieved that the government has finally listened and responded to our advocacy,” said advocate Vrinda Grover.