In a significant development earlier this year, the Supreme Court of India took a notable stance on the treatment of sex workers in the country. The court's directive, issued on May 19, has far-reaching implications for the rights and dignity of sex workers and their children.
The Supreme Court, with Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai, and AS Bopanna presiding, delivered a ruling affirming that sex workers and their children are entitled to the protections guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Article 21, often referred to as the Right to Life, stipulates that "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law." The court emphasized that this constitutional safeguard extends to individuals engaged in sex work.
Furthermore, the directive clarifies the legal status of sex work in India. While voluntary adult sex work is not illegal, operating a brothel is unlawful. As a result, police actions and arrests should be conducted with a clear understanding of this distinction.
The Supreme Court's directive marks a significant stride toward acknowledging the rights and dignity of sex workers in India. It aligns with the broader global discourse on safeguarding the human rights of sex workers and distinguishing between voluntary adult sex work and exploitation or trafficking.
The existing legal framework governing sex work in India primarily relies on the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA), which criminalizes solicitation, running brothels, and living off the earnings of sex workers. Private adult sex work is not illegal, but the enforcement of these laws varies from state to state.
The directive provides much-needed clarity and guidance on the interpretation and enforcement of the law concerning sex work. It underscores the importance of treating sex workers with dignity and respect, in accordance with their constitutional rights.
In conclusion, the recent directive from the Supreme Court signifies a positive stride in safeguarding the rights of sex workers in India and ensuring their access to legal protections and support. It reiterates the principle that all individuals, regardless of their profession, are entitled to a dignified life under the Constitution of India. The directive serves as a reminder of the ongoing debate over the legal status of sex work and the necessity for comprehensive legal reform in this realm. Until such reforms are enacted, the Supreme Court's directives provide crucial safeguards for sex workers and their children.