Bane or Boon of Prostitutions
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com

Prostitution, the world's oldest profession, is universally rampant even in all civilized countries, though subject to regulation by law or custom. Need for gratification of sexual urge has impelled men and women of all ages and in all countries to exploit sex. The trade and its accompanying evil of traffic in persons is incompatible with human dignity. Concerned over the growing danger to morality and a healthy and decent living in society, world public opinion congregated at New York in a convention of May 1950 for suppression of traffic in persons being exploited for immoral purposes. Pursuant to this, the Indian Parliament for the first time passed an Act for "Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls" - an Act of 1956 (SITA), aimed at suppressing the evils of prostitution in women and girls; and to achieve a public purpose to rescue fallen women and girls and prevent deterioration in public morals, to stamp out the rampant evil of prostitution, and also to provide opportunity to the fallen to become decent members of society.

SITA did not succeed in eradicating or suppressing the evils of prostitution, and was amended in 1978. Besides introducing further stringent measures, a progressive step here was the opening given under the Probation of Offenders Act. The provision for release on probation was being abused, it was soon found! So Parliament intervened in 1986, repealing provisions relating to probation, and providing stricter and higher penalty. SITA was changed to Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA), the ITPA used the expression 'person' thus covering both male and the female.

The definition of prostitution was also changed to cover only cases where exploitation or abuse of persons is for commercial purposes, and any place used for such abuse or exploitation to be termed a brothel. A minimum punishment of seven years' imprisonment was prescribed for most offences, which may extend to life, or to ten years. Both Central and State Governments conferred with powers to establish special courts for trial of offences under ITPA, with power to try offences in summary proceedings (…sentence in such trial not to exceed one year imprisonment). For investigation of offences with inter-state ramifications the Central Government empowered to appoint 'immoral traffic' police officers with territorial jurisdiction extending to the whole of India, with powers and duties as prescribed under the ITPA for a special police officer for investigation.

There are several reasons which force or impel women to turn to prostitution. At times for reasons of difficulty in finding employment; of excessively laborious and low-paid work; mal-treatment of the girl child at home; of privacy-denied promiscuous and indecent living among the overcrowded poor; the aggregation of people together in large communities and factories whereby the young are brought into constant contact with the morally debased; the visible lure of luxury, loose manners and self-indulgence set by wealthier classes; porn literature and amusements; the art of profligate men and their agents.

In India, though technically illegal, prostitution is widely tolerated. Condoms are distributed for free to call girls. According to a 1994 report in Asian Age there were then at least 70,000 women sex workers in Delhi, Madras, Calcutta, Bangalore and Hyderabad. 30% of these under 20 years of age, 40% in 20-30 age bracket, and approximately 15% who became prostitutes as children under the age of 12. The majority being Dalits or from castes which are recognised as backward under the Indian Constitution. Many innocent victims forced into prostitution even by their husbands or relatives; and some more tricked or enticed into prostitution. In 1998, prostitutes in India started to organize and lobby for legalization.

A report on the web puts the total number of prostitutes in India at 7,936,509. Another estimates it at 2.3 million. UNICEF estimates there are at least a million child prostitutes in Asia alone, with the greatest number in India (400-500,000), Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines. Cage prostitutes, often minors from Nepal and Bangladesh. Economic incentives offered to parents to part with their children, fake jobs or marriage promises, abductions. The promotion of tourism also accused for rising numbers of prostituted children.

In Delhi prostitution appears to have assumed a huge organised business now. Also, unlike in the past when girls from poor families were forced into prostitution, more and more models, school and college girls and young house-wives are increasingly observed in the profession. Girls from rich and good families also want quick money, charging not necessarily in Rupees but hundreds of dollars. Deals are fixed by pimps who arrange to meet the clients. Businessmen and the rich no longer required to throng dingy brothels. In a recent interview to BBC a Delhi prostitute disclosed she entertains big business delegations which come to Delhi and other high-profile people because they can pay good money. NGOs working in the field confirm this position. Among those arrested, many are found to be from other metropolises, flying into Delhi on Friday nights to spend the weekend for pleasure and lucre and return.

The police in addition are hassled by the mushrooming of fitness centres, hotels and farmhouses accused of being hubs for prostitution. And massage parlours and 'dating' services which provide escorts. Call girl rackets are regularly busted in five star hotels, guest houses and upmarket colonies. With the opening up of the Russian and other East-European economies, there is also an influx of the creamy lot and the white-skinned ostensibly to provide the locals with added flavour.

900words: 03.08.2004: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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