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Consenting Sex Workers are Entitled to Equal Protection under the law: Supreme Court

According to the Indian Penal Code (IPC), prostitution in its broader sense is not really illegal, but there are certain activities which constitute a major part of prostitution that are punishable under certain provisions of the act.

Sharbani Banerjee | New Delhi |

The landmark order by Supreme Court of India should have far reaching impact not only on the way ‘consenting sex workers’ are treated by the law enforcing agencies and looked down upon, it shall also deal with the issues of corruption due to ‘illegal sexual’ activities.

The order reinstates well that ‘consenting sex workers’ should be treated at par with the other criminals if they have flouted any legal norms and practices and should not be subjected to any harassment due to their choice of work.

The Supreme Court’s three-judge bench, headed by Justice L Nageswara Rao, and also comprising Justices B R Gavai and A S Bopanna passed the order on May 19, as it took a Suo Motu Cognizance (SMC) of a formal criminal complaint registered in connection with a sex worker in Kolkata, Eastern part of India, in 2011.

According to the Indian Penal Code (IPC), prostitution in its broader sense is not really illegal, but there are certain activities which constitute a major part of prostitution that are punishable under certain provisions of the act.

These include soliciting prostitution services in public places, carrying out prostitution activities in hotels, indulging in prostitution by arranging for a sex worker and arrangement of a sexual act with a customer.

Now, if Centre accepts court’s direction, in India, sex workers will be offered equal legal protection, if a sex worker reports a criminal/sexual or other type of offence, the police will take it seriously and act in accordance with the law.

Besides, if a brothel is raided, the sex workers involved will not be arrested, penalised, harassed, or victimized and any sex worker who is a victim of sexual assault will be given all of the same services as a survivor of sexual assault, including immediate medical attention.

And at last, police will be required to treat all sex workers with dignity and not verbally or physically abuse them, subject them to violence, or coerce them into any sexual activity.

Taking the apex court’s statement, invoking special powers under Article 142 of the Constitution while passing the order, the bench had said, “Sex workers are entitled to equal protection of the law. Criminal law must apply equally in all cases, on the basis of ‘age’ and ‘consent’. When it is clear that the sex worker is an adult and is participating with consent, the police must refrain from interfering or taking any criminal action.”

Talking about the same, Rudra Vikram Singh, Advocate at Supreme Court of India said, “Article 21 of the constitution provides Right to life with dignity to everyone. And the Supreme Court has clarified that the same should be given to the women too irrespective of the fact that she is a sex worker.”

He further said, “With this SC’s order, the sex workers will also get equal right. However, any direction issued by the apex court takes some time to implement. Also, we have seen the incidents where sex workers are harassed by the police at local levels. It is the duty of police at higher authorities to communicate the same to the juniors.”

Applauding the judgement, RamGopal Verma, Bollywood film producer tweeted, “The Supreme Court should be lauded for recognising that sex workers (prostitutes) are entitled to the same dignity as anyone else and warned both the police and the media not to interfere in their work and harass them.”