Hold consultations on legalising sex trade: Women's groups to NCW chief

New Delhi: The National Commission for Women(NCW) was today urged by members of women's groups to holdwide-ranging consultations over the issue of legalisation of prostitution after its chairperson recently advocated the same.

A delegation of members of women's groups in India met NCW chairperson Lalitha Kumaramangalam and submitted a memorandum urging it to go in for a national-level consultation with all sections on the matter. Kumaramangalam had advocated legalising sex work in order to regulate the trade and ensure better conditions for sex workers while bringing down trafficking and lowering the incidence of HIV among them.

However, women's right activists said that providing licences and making sex trade legal cannot possibly stoptrafficking; rather, it may give impetus to the trade. They claimed that in many ways, the scope for exploitation actually gets enhanced, rather than reduced, if sex trade is legalised.

The delegation demanded that a mechanism be put in place for generation of alternative livelihoods for women and children in prostitution and also called for active steps to be taken to facilitate their rehabilitation. "Special steps must be taken to ensure that their basic human rights are safeguarded and better livelihood options for women should be provided as a means of preventing their entry into prostitution," said Sudha Sundararaman of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA). "Media reports mention that you would be submitting your recommendations in this regard to a high-level Cabinet committee.

"However, while your suggestion may stem from legitimate concern for the exploitation that women in prostitution are often subjected to, we who have been working amongst the mass of women for many decades would like to impress upon you that the solution put forth would only add to their woes and lead to their increased exploitation," a release quoted Annie Raja of National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) as having said.

A vast majority of the women entering into prostitution belong to the most oppressed, backward caste, Dalit and tribal communities who have no alternatives. Giving legal sanction to prostitution can hardly convert prostitution into decent, dignified and safe work as defined by ILO, added Raja.

There is an attempt to make the trade acceptable and propagate the view that it is like any other "market" with people who "demand" and others who "supply", the delegation of women's right activists said."We strongly believe that it is imperative to understand the coercive nature of the trade and the fact that the whole process is mediated through an exploitative network. This is not an employment avenue that women can avail of independently.

Their presence in it has little to do with "voluntary choice". "Providing licences and making the trade legal cannot possibly stop trafficking; rather, it may give impetus to the trade. In many ways, the scope for further exploitation actually gets enhanced, rather than reduced," said Vimal Thorat of All-India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM).

The delegation urged the NCW chief to examine the issue in greater depth before advocating any changes with the government. "There needs to be a thorough consultation among legal experts, women's organisations active on the ground, groups who have been working with women in prostitution, those directly involved in this trade, etc. to develop a policy framework which genuinely reflects their interests," saidSundararaman.

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