Prostitution is considered as a worldwide problem, so as it is considered in India. Prostitution is allowing sexual services in return of payment. Likewise, Prostitute is a person who provides sexual services for money.

In today’s world, it has emerged into a huge industry. Most of them are trafficked in this profession and only few are doing it out of their free will. And this is the point where it has turned into a problem. Prostitution as a work is considered of highly unethical nature in India. Even the word ‘prostitution’ is also a taboo in the Indian society.

Main Causes of Prostitution in India

Poverty’ The need of money brings the helpless woman at the doors of prostitution. Money is a big regulating factor in our life these days and for survival, people tend to indulge in various activities to earn money, whether they are legal or illegal.

Human Trafficking’ According to Ministry of Human and Child Development around 20,000 women and children were the victim of human trafficking in 2016 in India. According to Human Rights Watch Report, there are more than 20 million prostitutes in India and 35% of them have entered in the this work at the age of less than 18 years.

Situation of Women’ We all talk about woman empowerment and gender equality, but the real picture says that woman are still being treated as an object. This mindset of considering woman as just an object for fulfilling the sexual drive is also one of the main causes behind the problem of prostitution in India.

Apart from these major causes, there are various other factors which contribute towards and give rise to this problem. Some of those factors are family history of prostitution, lack of sex education, cast system in society, etc.

Vicious Circle in Indian Society

In India, it is very difficult to understand the mindset of people towards prostitution.

Many people in the society are of the opinion that no one is forced by reason of poverty, etc. to do such unethical acts and there are many other respectful jobs which a woman can do to earn a livelihood, even when she is not educated, she can do household work as a maid or other jobs of respectful nature. But the irony is, whether the same people will allow these women, who were engaged in prostitution, to do their own household work’ Or hire them for any other kind of work’ Most of people in India will answer this negatively.

This simple picture of society’s mindset clearly depicts that prostitutes are stuck in this vicious circle. The reasons for the same are human trafficking rackets and the hurdle created by society.

What is Legal and what not under Prostitution?

At the outset, prostitution is legal in India. However, certain activities relating to prostitution are declared illegal by law. Some of the activities that are made illegal are –

  • Soliciting in a public place,
  • Kerb Crawling,
  • Prostitution in Hotels,
  • Child prostitution,
  • Brothels, etc.

Law relating to Prostitution in India

Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girl Act, 1956 (SITA) regulates the status of sex workers in India. This Act basically lays down that providing prostitution services is legal only when it is carried out in private but they cannot carry out the business in open. Exchange of sex for money is permissible in individual capacity only. However, there are some restrictions such as a woman cannot provide these services within the ambit of 200 yards of a public place.

Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1986, was passed as an amendment to SITA. This Act made certain activities illegal in regards to prostitution. This Act does not criminalize the services provided by prostitutes but punishes the acts of third party in assisting, facilitating, etc. and prohibits these services in public.

  • There are provisions for arrest of prostitute for seducing others to avail her services. Also, call girls are not allowed to make their phone numbers public. These acts attract imprisonment of 6 months with fines.
  • Pimps and other people who live on the income earned by prostitute are also liable under the Act for the punishment of 2 to 4 years.
  • Section 3 of the Act provides that people who run brothels and the landlords of the same are also doing illegal acts as per this Act. This is punishable for a period of 2 years, in case of first offence and in case of subsequent conviction rigorous imprisonment for a period of 5 years with fine.
  • Forcibly keeping any woman in brothel to provide sexual services is also punishable under the Act for a minimum period of 7 years.
  • Also, providing prostitution services in hotels is prohibited.

Despite of all these prohibitions, there are many brothels running in the cities like Delhi and Mumbai.

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1986 also focuses on Rehabilitation of Sex Workers as it provides the measures for welfare of victims. Rehabilitation includes legal, psychological, health and educational support in a view to enable the victims to join the society as a normal human being. It sets up protective rehabilitation homes for these purposes which are managed by the State Government.

Status of Rights of Prostitutes

Pension Rights – An Umbrella group of sex workers organization, ‘All India Network of Sex Workers’, campaigned for pension rights on 10th March, 2014. The organization presented a letter focusing that sex workers in India are not treated equally. A spokesperson from the Organization also highlighted that sex workers in India retire at the age of 40-45 years, which is much earlier that the other population and therefore, the need to bring them pension scheme is high.

Right to Equality – Right to be treated equally and live with full human dignity is guaranteed to every person and thus, it is also guaranteed to sex workers. But in real life, many cases have come up where sex workers are being treated discriminatory and even police or government officials are found to be involved in such acts.

Right to Vote – In 2004, though a campaign launched by NGOs, it came out that only 20% of sex workers registered as voters. A local leader and associated with a political party, said the process of issuing voter IDs for sex workers started after the 2009 elections. He further said ‘Their names reflect in the Lok Sabha electoral list and they will soon get their IDs’, as around 1,500 sex workers applied for the voter ID Cards.

The sex-workers also have all the rights which are guaranteed to any other citizen, but as we can derive from the above-mentioned data, the situation of their rights is pathetic when it comes to implementation.

Steps taken by Judiciary

In Gaurav Jain v. Union of India and Others (1997), directions were given by SC for the upliftment of prostitutes by rehabilitation through self-employment schemes and establishment of the juvenile home for the children’s of prostitutes.

In 2009, Supreme Court suggested that prostitution should be made illegal. Also, a petition was presented before the Supreme Court special panel, which aimed to change the law. In the petition, it was stated that many prostitutes of GB Road, Delhi have been interacted and they wish to get a legal status. During the interaction, it has also come out that they are even afraid to approach the doctors. They are also afraid to always harass by police and being evicted by their landlords if they came to know about their work.

In 2011, the bench presided by Justice Katju, sought suggestions from the panel, consisting Senior Advocates and NGOs, to enable those sex workers who wished to ‘continue working as sex workers’ and to do so with dignity. The court further ordered the Centre and State governments to undertake surveys to ascertain how many sex workers wanted rehabilitation and submit reports to the panel constituted by it.


As discussed above, most of the prostitutes are stuck in the vicious circle of prostitution, from which they are unable to come out. The mindset of society can be said to be the main reason for the same. Apart from this the implementation of the rehabilitation is ineffective which creates the gap between the law and its purposes. Taking into account the laws pertaining to prostitution in India, certainly a question arises that how can it be called as legal when almost all activities allied with it are declared by law illegal? And despite of all the efforts made by Courts and NGOs it is true that the sex workers are being exploited at the hands of police officers and politicians indeed they should support these helpless women.

References –

  • Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girl Act, 1956.
  • Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1986.
  • Human Rights Watch Report.
  • Prostitution in India: Understanding The Conditions of Prostitutes, by Prateek Goyal.
  • Legalising Prostitution in India, My India, 20th August, 2015.
  • The problem of Prostitution an Indian perspective, by Kaustubh Nandan Sinha.
  • Prostitution In Indian Society: Issues, Trends And Rehablitation, by Dr. Tulsing Sonwani.
  • A Review of the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1986, by Kiran Bhatty.
  • Sex workers look forward to poll day; some yet to get voter IDs, The Indian express, 4th April, 2014.
  • Red light area residents not in poll loop, Indian express, 18th March, 2019.
  • Image Credits –