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Sex workers demand ‘decriminalisation’, not legalisation

Concerns raised at workshop to be forwarded to committee that will discuss Immoral traffic (prevention) ACT.

Written by Nisha Nambiar | Pune |
October 30, 2014 5:06:08 am
Tejaswi Sevekari of Saheli Sangh at the workshop in Pune. ( Source: Express photo by Arul Horizon ) Tejaswi Sevekari of Saheli Sangh at the workshop in Pune. ( Source: Express photo by Arul Horizon )

A conglomeration of sex workers from across India who gathered in the city for a workshop held by organisations batting for their rights want ‘decriminalisation’ of sex work and not its legalisation per se. They were attending a workshop ahead of discussions, scheduled on November 8, by a panel constituted by the Supreme Court on laws pertaining to sex workers.

Pune-based Tejaswi Sevekari, director of Saheli Sangh will be among those who take forward the demands and concerns of sex workers to the panel when it discusses the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA).

“Sex workers denounced the move of legalisation and are asking the government to listen to their views before taking any decision. They said they will be impacted by any change in laws and policies,” said Sevekari.

She said they called for a repeal of laws that are used to arrest consenting adult women in sex work, or to rescue and place them in corrective homes against their consent. The two-day meet saw members of these organisation demanding repeal or amendment of laws that criminalise them. Nearly 50 members of nine community groups, networks and organisations of sex workers from the state, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh came under a banner to discuss rights of women in sex work and impact of laws on their lives, including the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956.

National Commission for Women chief Lalitha Kumaramangalam had said a proposal for legalising prostitution would be placed before the Supreme Court constituted panel on November 8. In a statement, it was mentioned that the proposal will be put forth in the national consultation scheduled for November 8 by the Supreme Court panel.

“This two-day workshop mainly addressed their concerns and we would want to put forth their views,” said Sevekari.

The apex court had constituted the panel after a public interest litigation was filed 2010 on rehabilitation of sex workers. The panel was to make recommendations for possible amendments to ITPA to allow sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with provision of Article 21 of the Constitution. The panel would deliberate on existing provisions of ITPA, loopholes, implementation of the law and impact on sex workers and their lives.

Meenakshi Kamble from an organisation from Sangli, who attended the meet, said sex workers are entitled to the same protection and dignity as every other citizens. “Despite this, existing laws are used to harass and punish consenting adult sex workers. We want laws repealed so that we can live with dignity and earn our livelihood,” she said. She added they are opposed to regulations that force compulsory health check up, compulsory licensing and designated zones. “These violate our right to free movement and work. We hope the government removes laws that criminalise us,” added Meenakshi.

The workshop discussed ITPA and other laws under which women, their family members and any third party supporting them are arrested. The workshop was organised by Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad, Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanshtha, Saheli Sangh and the National Network of Sex Workers India.

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