IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Explained: Why an NHRC advisory on sex work has split rights activists down the middle

23rd October, 2020 GOVERNANCE

Context: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recognised sex workers as informal workers in their advisory issued on “Human Rights of Women in the context of COVID 19”.

What is the NHRC advisory related to sex workers?

  • NHRC asked the Ministries of Women and Child Development, Labour, Social Justice, Health, and Consumer Affairs in all states and Union Territories to recognise sex workers as informal workers and register them so they are able to avail the benefits of a worker.
  • The Ministries have been asked to issue temporary documents so that the sex workers like all other informal workers, can access all welfare measures and health services.

Why is the advisory important?

  • The advisory included sex workers among groups that they were considered as part of vulnerable and marginal sections of society, thereby considering them as citizens who are deserving of protection of human rights in the time of the pandemic.
  • It is an important milestone in achieving constitutional rights for sex workers.

So who is opposing this advisory, and why?

  • Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act — lays down that the institution of prostitution is illegal.
  • Sex is either a consensual engagement between two adults or it is rape.
  • Commercial sex, if engaged through any institutional process is illegal and liable for prosecution. Hence Government of India never recognised sex work.”
  • Activist urged NHRC to withdraw Section III (B) of the ‘Women at Work’ advisory which had practically asked the government to legalise sex work by giving it a legitimate registration status.
  • To affirm the autonomy and dignity of women, be they sex workers or victims of sexual violence. No organisation or individual can arrogate to themselves the authority to decide their destinies”.