Beyond morality: Legalise sex trade to combat HIV | The big debate"/> Beyond morality: Legalise sex trade to combat HIV | The big debate"> Beyond morality: Legalise sex trade to combat HIV | The big debate">
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SC for legalising prostitution, activists up in arms

Dec 14, 2009 11:26 PM IST India India

Kolkata/New Delhi: The Supreme Court, while hearing a PIL on child trafficking last week, asked the Centre if it would consider legalising prostitution if it can't curb it. The apex court pointed out that it could help closely monitor prostitution and help provide rehabilitation and medical aid to sex-workers.

The Court pointed that no where in the world has the law been able to tackle prostitution and so the Government must consider legalising it.

The move to penalise clients visiting sex workers is inviting criticism but the Director General of the National AIDS Control Organisation has said this will only push the trade underground. He has said that to ensure that the health sex workers can be monitired and that there is no exploitation of sex workers, there is need to legalise the trade.

Programme Director, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, Bharati Dey - while voicing the demands of lakhs of sex workers across the country - added, "We will get PF, medical insurance, working hours will be fixed for them."

Led by the sex workers of Sonagachi in Kolkata, prostitutes all over are demanding that their profession be legalised and treated at par with other professions - free of extortion and abuse from the police and brothel owners.

A sex worker Kamla (name changed to protect identity) says, "If police will be there all the time we won't be able to earn anything. They trouble us a lot."

But Kamla and Bharti's fight for legitimacy is also being described by some as a sanction for exploitation. The anti-legalisation groups say that the move will mean giving legal and social sanction to human rights violation.

Executive Director, Shakti Vahini, Ravi Kant says, "We have never found a single victim who says legalise it, legalise my human rights violation, legalise my getting raped everyday. From bringing them from source to destination, there are tens of people involved and they are all making a profit from this trade."

Activists say foreign funding coming into anti-HIV programmes also drive some parties to lobby hard for legalisation.

Social activist, Madhu Kishwar says, "Does it mean that parents who offer their girls to touts for sex trade should be allowed to do so?"

On Delhi's infamous GB road, Nimmi Bai, who has walked these streets for 45 years, says she has few illusions about rehabilitation.

"The Government has been unable to give employment to hundreds of educated youth in this country. You think they will give us jobs?" says she.

And even as the fight for respect continues, Nimmi Bai knows the world's oldest profession can never really be shut down.

"If they stop this trade, girls will be picked up from houses. Girls will find it difficult to walk on roads for fear of being picked up. Because of this profession, some girls can stay safe in their homes," she concludes on a somber note.