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1 Feb 2006 "Indian Parliament Pushes Ahead With Anti-Sex Work Laws" Tripti Tandon, HIV/AIDS Unit, Lawyers Collective

Ignoring protests by sex workers and HIV/AIDS service organisations, the Union Cabinet cleared the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2005 late last year. Update by the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit in India

The bill is slated to be introduced in Parliament in the upcoming budget session. The amendments were moved by the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD), Ministry of Human Resource Development, a second time round, after receiving comments from a Group of Ministers (GOM) comprising Tourism, Law and Home Affairs, that had been set up in July 2005 at the instance of the Cabinet to review the earlier bill.

The most contentious provisions are the proposed sections 5A, 5B and 5C that pertain to trafficking. Not only does the bill fail to segregate trafficking from sex work, it further conflates the two; the new definitions of prostitution and trafficking leave scope for reading all sex work within the meaning of trafficking thereby criminalizing sex work per se. In addition, under the new Section 5C, clients visiting or found in a brothel will face imprisonment and/or fine. The existing ITPA does not proscribe prostitution, but merely restricts its practice by penalizing acts incidental to sex work such as brothel keeping, pimping and soliciting. Penalisation of clients marks a major shift in the prostitution policy underlying the ITPA, which predominantly targets '"third parties" profiting from prostitution and not sex workers or clients themselves. A detailed legal critique of the bill will be posted soon.

Penalisation of clients will be deleterious to health and safety interventions including existing government and donor programmes to promote condoms for preventing HIV/AIDS. Clients wanting to avoid arrests will be driven into remote, hidden settings where sex workers will find it difficult to negotiate protection.  This is evident from the Swedish experience, where criminalisation of clients of prostitutes has reportedly led to a rise in incidents of violence and STD infection among sex workers.

Already, attempts by outreach workers to contact clients to popularize safer sexual practices are constrained by their invisibility. The new provision will obstruct AIDS education and prevention in sex work even further.

Though the Amendments are being touted as "pro sex workers"; in reality, they expose them to greater harassment and intrusion by the Police. Last year in December, the National Network of Sex workers and the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit had strongly objected to the non-transparent process and absence of consultation with stakeholders for ITPA amendments. The Cabinet has approved the amendments notwithstanding fervent protests by sex workers, whose livelihood is at stake under the new law. Emergent concerns of public health and HIV/AIDS, which have otherwise been identified as national priorities by the Government of India, too have been overlooked, as is evident from the non-involvement of NACO and the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare in the amendment process

We urge all agencies concerned with HIV/AIDS and human rights of sex workers to write to the Prime Minister, demanding that:

  • The ITPA Amendment Bill 2005 is withdrawn and not introduced in Parliament in its present form
  • In case the bill is introduced in Parliament, it is straightaway referred to a Standing Committee that invites comments and inputs from different stakeholders including sex workers, risk reduction interventionists,  public health and human rights organisations

Any attempt to amend sex work laws is informed by human rights and public health realities; the process of reform itself should be open and consultative

Tripti Tandon

Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit

1st Floor, 63/2, Masjid Road,


New Delhi - 110 014

Phone  -91-11-24377101, 24377102, 24372237

Fax     - 91-11-24372236

e-mail  -