Changes in anti-trafficking law will hit sex workers: Activists

Last Updated: Mon, Feb 18, 2013 14:40 hrs

New Delhi, Feb 18 (IANS) The proposed amendments to the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA) being considered by the Ministry of Women and Child Development would further deteriorate the condition of sex workers as these could be used to harass them, activists said Monday.

The proposed amendments to the ITPA seek to criminalise clients using services of sex workers and rehabilitate those engaged in sex work by sending them to rehabilitation homes.

"This law will give police another tool to exploit sex workers. They will arrest the customers, who will then have to pay bribes... Gradually, sex workers will be forced to go underground," said Safeena Sayed of the National Network of Sex Workers.

"After such a law comes into effect, working in brothels will be a problem and women will be forced to go to other places. While in brothels, or known places, women are safe, in other places they won't be able to insist on the customer to use a condom."

"If sex workers are subjected to violence, they won't be able to do anything. This will only make things worse for them," said Bharti Dey, president of All India Network of Sex Workers.

Madhu Mehra, human rights lawyer from Partners in Law and Development, Delhi, said the new law would violate the rights of sex workers.

"Why don't they (the government) consult sex workers and ask them what they want. This law is based on the laws of Norway and Sweden. What is the need to make a law based on some other country's legislation? We should see what is the need for our country," she added.

According to Bharti Dey, NGOs working with sex workers are already making efforts against child trafficking and also stop unwilling women from being brought in this trade.

"Our network keeps a strict vigil. If any trafficked girl is found, we rescue her," Dey said.

"We conduct counselling for new girls and if she is not willing, we stop her from getting into the trade. In fact, our network is much better than that of police and we can make more impact. But the government has not consulted us on the proposed law."

Tripti Tandon of Lawyers Collective said: "The problem with this law is that it confuses consensual sex work with trafficking. Why is it so that a sex workers is not believed in either case - when she tells the police she was raped, or tells a magistrate she indulged in a consensual sex."

More from Sify: