National Commission for Women (NCW) chairperson Lalitha Kumaramangalam has advocated legalising prostitution to bring about improvement in the lives of sex workers and their families so that they become part of the mainstream.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian on the subject, Kumaramangalam said, “It’s a vicious circle. Before we blame the sex workers it would be advisable to consider the circumstances that force them into selling their bodies to earn a living. Once these women join the trade, they almost stop existing as human beings.”
“Imagine, scores of women are living a life where they have no access to healthcare services. The children that are borne out of sex which is singularly based on monetary arrangements have no one to rescue their future. These women and children are like the living ghosts of our society. They exist, but they do not exist,” said Kumaramangalam, reflecting on the kind of life the sex workers lead.
Kumaramangalam asked, “How many times do you think a client would actually allow a sex worker to use a condom? You see, this goes far beyond than a simplified version of an exploitation issue. Women are literally treated like objects. They are ‘consumed’ to satisfy whatever the payer fancies. What kind of unnatural activities they are coerced into will never make it to the mainstream, because it does not matter. Nobody would care what happens to a person who constitutionally does not even exist.”
“This is why not only legalising it but regulating prostitution becomes important. If prostitution is regulated, these sex workers will have rights just like any other employee has, working in any profession. They can have identities, both literal and metaphorical. They can access healthcare. And most importantly, their children can have a real chance at building a better future for themselves,” she said. But time and again, legalising, and regulating, prostitution has faced opposition on the grounds of it being against our culture and against the integrity of women. To this Kumaramangalam countered: “Human trafficking remains the second largest trade in the world after drugs. Prostitution is counted among the world’s oldest profession. Can you change human nature? Prostitution has nothing to do with any culture or religion in this world.”
“Everything is paid in cash. There is no way that you can trace it to a single person. If you will not legalise it then how will you control it? Take Delhi for example, has anyone been able to regulate the Garstin Bastion (G.B.) Road? And if you say that those countries that have legalised it have failed too, then understand that every country is different. Things can definitely be expected to improve at the least,” she said.
Kumaramangalam said that lack of awareness still remains a major reason why women continue to be marginalised in a country that aims for development. “You have no idea how many women continue to suffer simply because they have no knowledge that there are laws that can rescue them from the daily harassment that their lives have become. Domestic violence is routine for them. They do not know that they can break free from this torturous captivity,” she said. Women are infiltrated into the border and transacted for huge amounts of money. “Human trafficking is done not only for sex trade but also for organ trafficking. How can you curb the transportation of humans across borders unless you have laws that are effective, practical and actually implemented? Women at times come on their own will or are lured with attractive employment offers. Adult women might be aware of what they are doing, but minors are often victims. Ask around and listen to what the panderer says. If there is a demand, there will be supply too,” she said. “Ignoring the problem will not solve it. Kids should be imparted sex education. Women must be made aware of the rights that the Constitution of this country grants them. Common people need to stop acting ignorant about the less privileged. Bridging this huge gap will help a lot,” said Kumaramangalam.