Prostitution refers to exchanging sexual services for money. Prostitution as a subject in Indian society has received a mixed response and remains a debatable matter from various angles and remains a debatable matter from various angles. During the reign of the Mughal era, prostitution had a profound connection with the performing arts. Mughals hooked on the importance of prostitution which raised the status of dancers and singers to the higher levels in nexus with prostitution[1]. After the downfall of the Mughal Empire, hoards of concubines, dancing and singing girls and women came out of the royal palaces. They weren’t trained for any profession and there were no jobs for society to offer to them. When faced with economic problem they had no choice but to take recourse to the trade of sex for making ends meet. Conditions continued to deteriorate and in the absence of control and regulation by State and prostitution thrived on a large commercial scale. Social disabilities and economic hardships of women made them an easy victim to the gangsters of this profession[2]. 


India currently hosts some of the world’s largest red-light zones, such as Sonagachi in Kolkata, G.B Road in New Delhi and Kamathipura in Mumbai to name a few. Sonagachi is the second largest red-light area in Asia which is in Kolkata [3].  Prostitution is illegal in India, but there are a range of other practices including public prostitution, kerb crawling, running or operating a brothel, pandering and pimping are considered as crimes. The first legislation relating to prostitution in independent India was ‘The Immoral Traffic Supression Act 1956’, according to which prostitutes may trade privately but cannot legally attract or seduce customers in public as well as indulge in any sex trade within 200 yards of a public place. Brothel or pimping management was also considered a criminal offence. This legislation was later replaced by the law which was intended to gradually eliminate prostitution in India through criminalization of various aspects of sex work. But prostitution is prevalent in Indian Culture even today and there is now a fierce debate going on about legalizing it as an occupation.

Between 1997 and 2004, the number of female sex workers rose by around 50 per cent[4]. The Ministry of Women and Child Development reported the presence which says that about 3 million female sex workers are currently involved in prostitution that are below the age of 18. A 1996 study by Freidman shows that girls kept in prostitution by debt-bondage require some 15 years obtaining their freedom. 


A person’s reason for choosing prostitution may be numerous but the two key reasons that come to light are either women who choose it as a career are compelled to do so or they have to choose it because of their socio-economic circumstances. People who are interested in this occupation often pursue prostitution as a career because they have no other choices for survival. The study by the ILO [International Labour Organization] states that most women choose prostitution on economic grounds. 


Since prostitution has its roots deep in the fabric of society as argued by many, it is thus difficult to classify all factors responsible for prostitution. Among the major factors contributing to prostitution, a woman sub-coordinating to men’s social and economic factors has been cited. Some research studies suggested the following factors to be conducive to prostitution:


This is the most common cause. Young girls are kidnapped in some or the other ways from their homes crushing their agency of choice. People usually abduct in the course of time when girls go to movies by walking on roads, when they travel to their relatives towns through some domestic way. Contrary to common beliefs, most kidnappers are females or couples. Incidences of prostitution by abduction is estimated to be 35 percent.


Approximately 6 per cent of girls committing prostitution take place after they face rape attempt. It is said that when girls are getting raped, they will face huge social dilemmas in society as they cannot show their true essence at home of being a clean and healthy woman. these kind of rape victims are not often welcomed at home and to live a normal life in their own habitat. the main drawback is that because of many delays in recognizing the people who are for the reason of getting them raped and failed to hold them as wrong doer which is due to no proper execution of the registered cases, thus rape victims are there in the society now and then. When they don’t find any safe place in society and when isolated from homes, they will undoubtedly take their way to the same brothel areas where they were induced and were manipulated to get earnings for their basic needs. About 8 per cent of the girls came to prostitution following the incidents of incest. When the young victim of incest at home is abused and treated alike, she will not probably foresee protection anywhere in society and ends up in prostitution gradually. In certain circumstances, we have come across some of these kinds of cases where the girls were solely sold by their own fathers, uncles or the brothers-in-law after conducing them to incest.


In common embodiments of Hindu culture in India it is said that the people who have encountered sexuality are considered ‘used goods’ and are unselected to get married. It is considered that women without a husband obviously will not have an adequate source of income; and she also cannot wear the marriage bindi[5]. If a woman’s husband dies, she has essentially outlived her purpose and because she is not a virgin, so when a woman gets widowed or divorced then she is least likely to get married again and it’s difficult for her to live a life of dignity further facing this social stigma. “Bride burnings” in some rural areas in India, in which a woman burns herself to death on behalf of her husband’s funeral, which still occurs. If such strong cultural ideas and as they are confronted by these kind of social stigma which are mixed with the influence of religion or deprivation, thus more people are being forced into prostitution. For example, a girl might become a street child because her mother died and the new spouse of her father won’t accept her. As a street child, she may be periodically kidnapped along with her fellow vagabonds for crimes, which they may or may not have committed. Therefore, they are then used as sex trader and she may decide to become a prostitute in order to support herself and find her a place in the broken world where she is supposed to reside.


The children living near brothel areas or in association with such rape, abduction and social factors become so used to seeing sex trade that they come to accept it as normal. The children who are introduced to the sex industry want to have such thrilling encounters at the first opportunity possible. A recent study of an American slum showed a woman over fifty will attract a couple of boys to another apartment and give them food and drink. 


The women who get pregnant as a result of their intimacies and illegal cooperation such as forcefully getting them to involve in sex and who cannot get abortion and get revealed in the society as they treat them isolated form other people if they do not get married or is deprived of relationship with their family hence, nobody wants to marry them but rather it will lead again to the sex traders enjoying them sexually and as for their prey. Hence, to avoid themselves from facing social stigma and confronted in the society they prefer to accept themselves as prey for sex traders and earn basic income for their economic well-being. 


There are some psychological facts which tend the person towards prostitution. A woman who is frigid becomes desperate [6]. Because of that she is least likely to experience pleasure and becomes a regular prostitute by way of trial and error as they try one man after the other. Some women do not subject themselves for these kinds of acts. In order to assert their independence they consort with other men. There is a psychological abnormality here which is known as troilism. A husband who is suffering from troilism likes to see her submit to another man’s embrace, often he likes another woman to touch his wife physically and at the same time he sodomites her. It is not possible to go into the full range of psychological factors.


In India prostitution has been subjected to religious sanctions. Each family in the South was supposed to give a daughter to the temple where she was supposed to serve gods with absolute devotion. They were known as devadasi’s –god-slaves. But they did lead a life of prostitution in actual reality. The ancient and medieval Indian prostitutes enjoyed the status of courtesans that is, courtiers and kings who gave pleasure to girls. There courtesans enjoyed high status in Indian society as well as onboard other religious sects, in which the priest has the right to deflower every newly married daughter. The polyandry and polygamy as practiced greatly are easily made accepted to the prostitution.  


Most of these sex workers are treated inhumanly at the early stage of their stay at the brothel (a unit of prostitution). They are often beaten so as to make them alive with fear in their minds and not to open up to others. Such employees have accomplished what the brothel owner wants and desires to then again remain practically under house arrest to avoid their escape. Only a small part of their earnings is allotted to them. The government estimations say that there are total three million people who are involved in sex trade in India, most of them are highly affected by not only HIV but from various other sexually transmitted diseases. The emotional health includes severe trauma, stress, depression, anxiety, self-medication through alcohol and drug abuse, and eating disorders. Girls in prostitution are also at high risk of self-mutilation, suicide and murder. They don’t have a reliable access to medical or health care facilities as they are made apart from their families and have no pretty income to utilize for taking care of their health and body as they are highly exploited through the male customers. 


There’s been a lot of movement to close the brothels and the areas that promote prostitution. The bill Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill”, was passed in the year 2018, which seeks to combat this illicit trade practice but it has been contradicted by various sex traders by saying that they will be abused more by police than before as a result of laws enacted for anti-trafficking. Furthermore, some necessary steps are required to root out our evil below:

  1. Sex Education: All men and women should be informed of the adversely affected diseases such as caused by venereal or sexually transmitted diseases and the causes of these diseases. They should be given knowledge through different steps to educate them and make them understand its cause and effect on marital and family relationships. An early age should be taught the virtues of self-discipline. There would be a sex education provision in schools and colleges for young people. Relevant sex education literature should be circulated to the young by other social welfare organizations. In this direction also works the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene in India. Female education is also effective in the prevention of unintended pregnancies before and after marriage.
  2. Employment opportunities for Women: Girls and women are forced to take up this profession because of extreme poverty. Hence training and education should be provided to them. Imparting education, training and skills will increase the employability of women in the job market. Economic empowerment will prevent this degraded occupation from entering poor women.
  3. Abolition of Certain Social Customs: Widow remarriage should be encouraged. With the Widow Remarriage Act, the window became free to marry. Unfortunately the restriction of society on widow marriage has perpetuated. The dowry system that prevented many girls from getting married should be fully prevented in practice. There is an urgent need to reform the mindset of society towards widowed wedlock, dowry and devadasi.
  4. Double Standards of morality have to be discouraged: The notation of double standards of morality should be discouraged. As Smt. Ranganayaki observes, “It is in reality impossible to have double standard morally in matters of sex for without male chastity, female chastity is impossible. As a result of a double standard of morality which demands a woman to be chaste, and expects a man to be irregular and for their developed tolerated vice”[7]. 
  5. Publicity and propaganda: Public should be made known to the legislations and if such nuisances in their areas are found then, immediately they should feel open to report this event. Furthermore, films based on sex and pornographic content should not be encouraged. The current younger generation has unrestricted internet access to some of the sites which contains sex literature and void videos which can bring down the moral standards among youngsters, hence, parents should be cautious about the internet habits of their children and their addictions.
  6. Setting up of Venereal Disease Clinics in surrounding colonies of brothel areas: Special Venereal Disease Clinics should be opened to treat the victims those having venereal diseases. Diagnostic services should be made available for disadvantaged groups such as prostitutes and lorry drivers conducting themselves to sex trade. 
  7. Bulletins: Pamphlets should be issued to create public awareness about the illegal human trafficking. If they suffer from any kind venereal diseases or STDs, the public should be urged to seek care immediately. In addition, free blood testing and care in all antenatal cases should be enforced to ensure that young, healthy children are born free of congenital diseases and traits.


Prevalence of poverty on a large scale is the most effecting feature on the life of citizens. It has been estimated that 40% of India’s population is on the verge of poverty. That means they are unable to meet basic survival needs such as food, clothing and shelter. Poverty does not create imbalances in gender and sex. It only increases the power imbalances and thus increases the vulnerability. In a patriarchal system, women and girl children are mostly affected in families in a particular community. Because of certain representations and consequences arising due to caste based disputes, political struggles, domestic conflicts which all represents high gender discrimination against women. Abuse against attacking women and violence against women focuses extensively on the degree of human exploitation and the vulnerable position of women in eyes of the state, community, and society. This desperate poverty is often cited as the root of India’s growing prostitution problem [8]. It is also argued that in many countries with a well-developed economy, better living stance, high literacy rate, integrity and equality between men and women, the cruelty of prostitution remain unobserved and unsolved. This suggests that human trafficking continues to be a constant struggle for girls and women not only because of greed, deprivation but also because people chose this occupation consciously and are vulnerable to get manipulated by others.


With respect to Article 23 of the Constitution of India, trafficking is prohibited in all forms. We have special laws such as the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act(ITPA) and few enforced local legislation such as the Goa Children’s Act and some extending to the provisions in the IPC[9]. 

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act- 1956

The Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, 1956 (“ITPA”), which is India’s most important law on sex trade, does not decriminalizes prostitution or stops the activities undertaken prostitutes per se, but rather punishes activities of third person that promote such illegal sexual activity; such as establishment of brothels for keeping girls, living off earnings and procurement, even where sex work is not forced. 

  • Section 3: Punishment for maintaining a Brothel or permitting the use of premises as Brothel. Any person who takes the authority to keep or manage, or does any activity or assists in holding a brothel shall be punishable as on the first conviction with imprisonment for a period of two years, and also with a fine of not less than two thousand rupees and, in the case of a second conviction, the punishment extends for a period of two to three years, and subsequently fines which can be extended based on the harshness and rate of offence convicted [10].  

Any person who, –

(A) Being the tenant, the lessee, the occupant or the person in charge of any premises, uses or knowingly allows any other person to use such premises or any part thereof as a brothel, or (b) Being the owner, the lessor or the landlord of any premises or the agent of such owner, the lessor or the landlord, allows the same or any part thereof to be used as a brothel or in the case of a second conviction or subsequent conviction, with extreme imprisonment for a period of up to five years and with fine as well.

(2-A) For the purposes of subparagraph (2), it is assumed that, before the contrary has been proved, any person referred to in clause (a) or clause (b) of that subsection which says that any person with conscience and knowingly allow the premises to be used as a brothel, if, –

(a) A notice shall be published in a newspaper circulated in the area in which that person resides, who has been running a brothel to undertake sex trade as a result of a search conducted under this Act; or

 (b) A copy of the list of all items found during the search in an area where the brothel has been active as referred to in the clause (a) is given to those category of people.

  • Section 5: Procuring, inducing or taking person for the sake of prostitution :

(1) Any human being who-

(a) Procure or attempts to procure a person, whether with or without his / her consent, for sake of their prey and for the purpose of prostitution or sex trade; or 

(b) Induce a person to leave some place in order that he / she either become a prisoner or a regular brothel for the purpose of prostitution;


(c) Takes or threatens to take a person or allows a person to be taken from one place to another in order to proceed or to be brought up for prostitution;


(d) Causes or induces a person to prostitute himself; shall be punishable by imprisonment for a period of not less than three years and not more than seven years, and also by a fine of up to two thousand rupees, and if any crime under this clause is committed against any person’s will, the imprisonment shall be prolonged for a period of seven years if a person-

(i) Is a boy, the punishment provided shall extend to imprisonment for a period of not less than seven years but in some extreme cases it may also extend to imprisonment for life; and 

(ii) is a minor; the punishment provided for this shall be extended to severe imprisonment for a period of not less than seven years and not exceeding fourteen years. It can also be seen that both section 3 and section 5, only punish the actions of the third party involved and so new laws must be enacted to prosecute the client who visits the prostitutes. Viewed from the conventional point of view, the law enforcement scenario presents a dissimilar image[11]. 


Section 372 of the Indian Penal Code: Selling minor for prostitution purposes. Whoever sells lets hire, or disposes of any other, 

  1. Person under the age of eighteen with the intention that such person, at any age, be employed or used for prostitution or for sexual intercourse with any person or for any unlawful or immoral reason, or with the knowledge that such person is likely to be employed or used for any such reason at any age, shall be punished with the imprisonment of any type for any term that may be used for such purpose.
  2. Explanation I- When a woman under the age of eighteen is sold, hired or otherwise disposed of by a prostitute or by any person who maintains or manages a brothel, the person so disposed of by that woman shall be presumed to have disposed of her with the intention that she be used for prostitution purposes until the contrary is proved.

Explanation II- For the purposes of this section, “illegal intercourse” means sexual intercourse between persons who are not united by marriage or by any union or bond recognized by the personal law or custom of the community to which they belong or belong to different communities of both such communities, as constituting between them a quasi-marital relation.

Section 373 of the Indian Penal Code: Buying minor for Prostitution. Whoever purchases, hires or otherwise acquires possession of any  

  1. Person under the age of eighteen with the intention that such person be employed or used at any age for the purposes of prostitution or sexual intercourse with any person or for any unlawful or immoral reason, knowing that such person is likely to be employed or used for any reason at any age, shall be punished with the imprisonment of any type for a period that may apply to that person.
  2. Explanation I- Any prostitute or person who holds or manages a brothel buying, hiring or otherwise acquiring possession of a woman under the age of eighteen shall be assumed to have acquired possession of such a woman with the intention of being used for prostitution unless the contrary has been proven.

Explanation II. “Unlawful intercourse” means intercourse between persons not united by marriage or by any partnership or close relationship recognised by the marriage

Individual rule or Collective practice to which they belong or, where they belong to different communities, between the two communities as constituted between them. 


The Action Research conducted by the National Human Rights Commission, during 2002 -2004 shows that the major issues in the existing scenario of law enforcement are as follows:

  • Lack of priority: Law enforcement departments and law enforcement agencies assign the lowest priority to HT concerns for different reasons.
  • Insensitivity: lack of awareness in the response to human trafficking is a major problem. It is more a matter of mindset.
  • Victim, who has complained about the brutality they faced: women who are more often trafficked were detained and prosecuted as ‘applicants;’ the NHRC study indicates that approximately 85 to 90 per cent women get detained by way of human trafficking. 
  • Inadequate investigation: while the crime of trafficking spreads over a broad canvas as a crime scene, beginning from the source point and expanding to both transit and destination areas, the investigation is most often unheard and unrepresented before the media and public.
  • Lack of Database: The fact that there is no proper established database of criminals or convicts and other exploiters is one of the big disadvantages for enforcing law. There is no exchange of information among the stakeholders and thus the perpetrators are still operating with impunity.


Some people contemplate that prostitution in India should be made legal and accepted as a normal basis in the society because the prostitution issue is unavoidable and cannot be totally waived off as most of the victims are made unheard and for sex employers it’s a source of income. The advantage of legalizing prostitution in India would be that at least we will have a track record of sex workers like when most migrated to other neighboring states when other brothels and they do not find the safe place to find their prey, while they have started their own undercover financed businesses. Legalizing prostitution would see these women living on the better side of life, winning access to medical services that can safeguard the spread of AIDS. There is a very strong need to regulate, implicate and empower the sex trade with some legality and provisions like that of any other sector. Holding prostitution illegal also leads to crime as prostitutes and their employees are seen by many criminals responsible for theft, fraud, rape or other criminal acts. The perpetrators know that these individuals are unlikely to report the crimes to the authorities as the victims will have to confess that they were engaged in the illicit practice of prostitution when these attacks took place. 

Benefits of legalizing prostitution are:

  1. The prohibition of sex-trafficking in cities, covert and prostitution will come to an end,
  2. Pornography needs to be legalized which can then regulate sex industry,
  3. The legalization of prostitution will benefit women because they will have rights of prostitution and can have a better access to health facilities.

However, those who demand that prostitution be “legalized” and should be controlled in the same way as all other professions and occupations with due “respect and dignity”, some of those which can be done are:

  • considering prostitution as an economic practice enables women to receive work permits in India as “sex workers.

If the majority of Indians do not want brothels to operate openly and legally in their neighborhoods, the only way to provide for “legal” sex work where sex workers agree to operate in specially designated areas traditionally known as red light districts. Sex worker may then obtain individual or licensed brothel licenses. 

  • Most women, especially those who operate as high society call girls tend to operate in a sudden manner. Many men, who run women’s prostitution, would also not like to be identified publicly as differently and oppressed. How does the law handle such persons? When people come to know that a person in their neighborhood is running a call-girl racket using his own resources and wealth like that of home, they have the right to demand his removal or do they need the call-girl center to be determined as a red-light district after the trade has been legalized? These are some of the questions which need to be voiced and taken into action with certain legal enforcement and strict regulations. 
  • Those who claim the equal “respect” to be given as received by any other occupation for sex work need to firstly justify the responsibility of maintaining “respect” to prostitutes [12] who are their employees who work under them. Is the government supposed to pass a law compelling people not to avoid prostitutes, as it did, for example, to ban untouchability practices? One can prove that one does not practice untouchability by freely intermixing with castes treated as untouchable.

In ultimate analysis it can be concluded that Prostitution in India requires no specific remedy, per se, in the form of criminalization, decriminalization or legalization. It will be healed when women and men will share their sexuality and their special personalities within this society. It will be remedied only when women and men are economically and politically the same[13].  


It may be said that the practice of prostitution has many facets and therefore, must be dealt with various regulations and upon their ways of execution; it requires a radical change in the society. This would involve a comprehensive review of the whole problem of social and economic customs which are mostly regarding marriage, divorce, sex education, and also evolving an appropriate and legitimate program to guide people’s economic and socio-moral and emotional concepts and risks. It should also be done to provide compensatory children with the love, affection, giving awareness of the facts of life and a sense of protection and belonging required for their normal existence because we cannot expect them to lead normal lives. This calls for reorganization of the entire problem of child care and child upbringing[14]. Also it is clear that Indian Law doesn’t illegalize the work of Prostitution. Law allows the practice to be carried in private places. But it is necessary that the practice must be illegal, not in public rather than in private. Women who are forced to involve in these practices have to raise their voice to get out of the oppression and social stigma suffering and those who are doing in “free will” have to understand that there are many other ways by which they can earn income and lead a better meaningful life. This is not the only way by which they get the luxury life. 

It is needed that every woman must fight for themselves as their own voice and that will lead to a pretty good change.


[1]Rana safvi, “how tawaifs fell from grace and known to be prostitutes” dailyO, 2018, available at: (last accessed on August 16, 2020).

[2] Anshika shivhare, “ prostitution: a hated and oldest profession” ,, 2019, available at: (last accessed on August 16, 2020)

[3]Sandhya ravishankar, “Inside Sonagachi, Asia’s largest red-light district”, Alzazeera, 2015, available at: (last accessed on August 18, 2020).

[4] “India court raises question of legalising prostitution”, BBC news, 2009, available at: (last accessed on August 20, 2020).

[5]Aditya Mohapatra, “prostitution: issues and its reasons…”,, 2018, available at: (last accessed on August 20, 2020).

[6]Haveripeth prakash, “ prostituiton and its impact on society: a criminology perspective” scribd, volume 2(3), 2013, available at: (last accessed on August 21, 2020).

[7]Aparna singh and niharika yadav, “ prostitution in Indian society: issues, trends and rehabilitation” 2019, available at: (last accessed on August 21, 2020).

[8] “prostitution and girl child”,, 2011, available at: (last accessed on August 22, 2020).

[9]Aparna singh and niharika yadav, “ prostitution in Indian society: issues, trends and rehabilitation” 2019, available at: (last accessed on August 22, 2020).

[10] “THE IMMORAL TRAFFIC (PREVENTION) AMENDMENT BILL, 2006”, Bill No. 47 of 2006, available at: (last accessed on August 23, 2020).

[11]Nivedita singh and KC singh, “ framework of human rights on sex workers”, scribd, available at: (last accessed on August 24, 2020).

[12]Madhu Kishwar, “ A question of respect: legalising prostitution will legitmise its dishumaning effects…” , the Indian express, 2009, available at: (last accessed on August 24, 2020).

[13]Tejlaksmi dhopaukar, “Legalisation of prostitution in India” , Scribd, 2017-2018, available at: (last  accessed on August 26, 2020).

[14]Haveripeth prakash, “ prostituiton and its impact on society: a criminology perspective” scribd, volume 2(3), 2013, available at: (last accessed on August 27, 2020).


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