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Beyond morality: Legalise sex trade to combat HIV

Dec 14, 2009 11:30 PM IST India India

New Delhi: From GB Road in Delhi to Kamathipura in Mumbai, sex workers are unanimous in the view that legalsing the trade will go a long in way in combating exploitation.

A sex worker says, "Legalisation means less police harassment, so that is one good thing that can come out of it."

Another adds, "If they give us houses, we can work. Are they willing to give us that?"

Illegal or not, GB Road in Delhi, Sonagachi in Kolkata and Kamathipura in Mumbai are still India's red-light landmarks. And today as the flesh trade flourishes upscale as well, it is even being advertised discreetly through newspapers.

Many say it's time to leave the moral debate behind and bring in laws to safeguard sex workers from exploitation by their clients, their pimps and even the police.

Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee member, Samarjit Jana says, "It will put sex workers in a better position where they will be able to negotiate with different stakeholders like police, local goons and others who really exploit them."

Recognition would also help the anti-HIV/AIDS movement. Brazil did this and today Brazil's anti-HIV program, which uses sex workers to hand out condoms, is among the most successful in the world. On the other hand, South Africa, where prostitution is illegal, remains the HIV capital of the world.

Another Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee member, Mahashweta Mukherjee says, "If prostitution is legalised, then there will be a more organised approach to tackling HIV."

But not every one buys this theory.

A sex worker says, "These ID cards that they give us - will it give us dignity or acceptance. We will still be treated in the same way. So what's the point of legalising this?"

But right now, despite the law, it's tough to catch those who exploit sex workers.

DCP South Delhi, HGS Dhaliwal says, "Even if you are able to find a sex worker, and also a customer and even if you have a certain recovery of money, later on to be able to prove that this money was delivered by such-and-such person to such-and-such worker, becomes very difficult."

To legalise or not is a tough call, but it is time to consider factors beyond morality.