Supreme Court declares sex work as a ‘profession’; says police can’t interfere, take legal actions

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The Supreme Court has instructed that police should not interfere with or take criminal action against adult and consenting sex workers in a momentous judgement that recognises sex work as a “profession” whose practitioners are entitled to dignity and equal protection under the law.

“It goes without saying that, regardless of occupation, under Article 21 of the Constitution, every individual in this nation has a right to a dignified existence,” the court stated.

Six instructions were issued by a three-judge bench led by Justice L Nageswara Rao to protect the rights of sex workers. “Sex workers are entitled to equal protection under the law,” the Court stated. On the basis of age and consent, criminal law must apply equally in all circumstances. The authorities must refrain from interfering or taking any criminal action when it is evident that the sex worker is an adult who is participating with consent. It goes without saying that, regardless of occupation, everyone in this country has the right to a dignified existence guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.”

The court also ruled that in raids on brothels, sex workers should not be jailed, penalised, harassed, or victimised because voluntary sex work is not illegal and only running the brothel is.

The court ruled that a kid of a sex worker should not be separated from her mother only because she works in the sex trade. The court stated that “basic protection of human decency and dignity extended to sex workers and their children.”

Furthermore, it should not be assumed that a juvenile living in a brothel or with sex workers has been trafficked.

The court also instructed the police not to discriminate against sex workers who file a complaint, particularly if the offence is sexual in nature. Sex workers who are sexual assault victims should be given every convenience, including rapid medical and legal assistance.

The bench further stated that the use of condoms by sex workers should not be taken by the police as evidence of sex worker misconduct. The court also recommended that sex workers who are apprehended and brought before a magistrate be sentenced to two to three years in a penitentiary facility.

Justice Rao was adamant that the authorities could not force sex workers to stay in correctional facilities or shelters against their will.

On the next date of hearing, July 27, the court has requested the Centre to respond to these proposals.

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