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Reforms for sex workers by Indian Government

Updated: Feb 20, 2022

Written by: Mansi Mishra



Webster Dictionary defines prostitution as “the act or practice of engaging in promiscuous sexual relations especially for money.”[1] A person who promises his or her body for money for sexual acts is called a prostitute or a sex worker.

Reasons for entry

Sex workers are normal people identified as women, men, and transgenders. Their living condition and the class they belong to, push them into prostitution. Sex workers join the trade for various reasons, one of them being poverty and a low standard of living of women, men, who cannot afford to pay bills and support their families. Many girls choose this line of work because it is easy money to support their poor families.

Most of the girls in this business are not here by choice but are forced into prostitution. They are either sold off by poor family members or betrayed by lovers or acquaintances, promising a job or marriage. So, most of the sex workers are the victims of child and human trafficking.

Young girls often become the prey of pimps or get kidnapped and sold off to a brothel as they are ‘virgins’, they cost higher in the flesh market. According to a survey, the children involved in the flesh trade are at an intensely alarming number of 1.2 million. And innocence is lost over lust and corruption.[2]

Red-light areas

Even though running of a brothel is illegal in India, there are a large number of them running in big cities of India like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Chennai.

Mumbai, in Maharashtra, is considered as the largest commercial sex trade centre in the world. Mumbai is also home to the largest red-light district in Asia, Kamathipura. Due to human trafficking, many young girls and children are brought into this trade because of the increasing demand. The red-light districts also known as the brothel districts of Mumbai are patrolled by thugs to make sure that the enslaved sex workers do not escape from their claws. Many sex workers work under a ‘madam’ or have pimps. These madams take an upfront amount from clients for the sexual acts to be committed by the sex workers. The sex workers earn in the form of wages through which they manage their expenses like electricity bills, food, rent, and other expenses.[3]

Health conditions of sex workers

Girls who have been trafficked in the business have little or no autonomy with their clients, the clients treat the sex workers however they want to, wearing a condom or not is the client’s choice, not the other way around. Whatever heinous act they do to the sex workers, there is nothing a sex worker can do except bear the pain of it all. Many girls suffer from severe UTIs or sex workers get STDs and even HIV. There is a rapid spread of HIV in the sex industry of Mumbai. They sell their bodies as sexual tools each day, for food and to feed their children and on top of it, they get exploited. All of this at the cost of what? Money? Survival? To keep their house from crumbling under the pressure of the economy while trying to survive?


Prostitution done privately is legal but to limit prostitution and exploitation as well as trafficking of girls and children ITPA (Immoral Traffic Prevention Act) was passed.

The Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act,1956 [4]

The "Immoral Traffic Prevention Act", or ITPA, also called "Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act" (PITA) is a 1986 amendment of legislation passed in 1956 as a result of the signing by India of the United Nations' declaration in 1950 in New York on the suppression of trafficking.

The law in this act criminalizes various aspects of sex works.

According to this law, Sex work is legal if practiced in private. Whereas the activities related to prostitution such as a sex worker soliciting a client in a public place or within 200 yards of a public place is illegal. Also, a client will face charges if he is seen consorting in sexual acts with a sex worker within 200 yards of a public place or a notified area or if the sex worker is under the age of 18 years. It is a criminal offence to conduct prostitution in a hotel. Other activities including running a brothel, pimping, child prostitution, and human trafficking where minor and adult girls are procured and sold off to brothels or to clients for a sum of money, are illegal and punishable by law.

The act also makes the government obliged to provide rescue and rehabilitation of a sex worker to a protective safe house if a sex worker is requesting assistance and the heart to start a new life.

Following are some other actions taken by the government to improve sex workers’ quality of life.

MDACS (Mumbai District AIDS Control Society) [5]

Mumbai Districts AIDS Control Society (MDACS) is an autonomous body, established on 27th July 1998 by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) for the control & prevention of HIV/AIDS in Mumbai.

The organization focuses on a key population that includes sex workers and migrant workers who are at high risk to catch the virus. Sex workers are in the business of sexual relations which is one of the four main causes of HIV if protection is not used; whereas migrant workers who are single or whose family is in a different state turn to sex workers to fulfill their sexual needs.

In a country like India, which is a haven to reasonable-sounding superstitions and profound standards of ignorance about the most basic pressing matters, the horror virus HIV is currently present in 2.1 million people. People are ignorant about using a contraceptive condom during sexual intercourse, which is the only effective method to prevent STDs and HIV. While being tested HIV positive, people also choose not to come ahead because of the risk of being treated differently in society.

Working of MDAC

MDAC has 11 NGO tiers under it, situated all over Mumbai to have maximum reach to HIV-positive patients and to those who are at high risk of getting the disease. Each tier has a key population of approximately 1500 people. The out-reach workers and peer educators work at the ground level where they find sex workers and migrant workers and counsel them. Their job is to promote awareness about HIV, how to prevent it, and disregard the common myths about HIV. One of their main jobs is to organize camps where the people are screened for STDs and HIV.

They conduct an STD testing camp every 3 months in a community. HIV testing is conducted every 6 months in a community. Those who are tested positive for HIV at these camps are linked to the nearest ART(Anti-Retroviral Therapy) centers which are mostly government hospitals where they are provided with medicines every month and partake individual counseling sessions.The counselors at the ART centres personally take follow-ups of every HIV-positive patient under them.

The government provides financial aid to female sex workers [6]

Amidst Coronavirus lockdown effect, it is not considered safe to have any sort of contact with people outside one’s homes. People were paranoid to go out on the street and get basic groceries, visiting prostitutes became the least of their needs.

Due to this, the only income source of prostitutes went down to almost nothing. They had no money to pay their bills, feed themselves and their families. The prostitutes were left hungry on the streets. Sex workers have no backup or a community supporting them with their financial needs. They had no one to turn to. No society in India has ever accepted them and there have been very rare reforms by the government to improve their living condition.

In November 2020, Yashomati Thakur, Minister of Women and Child Development in Maharashtra announced an exceptional initiative for sex workers. They came up with a project aiming to help sex workers financially to help themselves with the basic necessities and general expenses of their children. The project helped over 31,000 female sex workers.

Working of the Project

In order for a sex worker to register for this project, the requirements are 1 original Identification Proof and Personal Bank Account Details.

Each registered sex worker would receive Rs. 5000 every month for a year and if the sex worker has a child, they would get a surplus of Rs.2500, a total of Rs.7500 to a sex worker with a child.

Effects of this project

Every registered sex worker has started receiving the allotted amount in their accounts every month and now they have something to survive on. Their livelihood would not be much impacted if they receive lesser clients. A sex worker even saved up this money and married off her daughter which was delayed earlier because of lockdown and lack of funds.


May this step now prevent further regrets. The sex workers are very surprised and pleased by this action of the government. For the first time, a step has been taken to support them. The money may not seem much for the majority middle-class population but it makes all the difference in the lives of people who have to work each day to survive and whose sole livelihood depends on the will and whims of others.

[1] Definition of prostitution, available at : (Last Modified February 28, 2021).

[2] Survey of children involved in flesh trade, available at : (Last Modified October 6, 2020).

[3] Prostitution in Mumbai, Maharashtra; available at : (Last Modified January 30, 2021).

[4]Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956; available at : (Last Modified February 26, 2021).

[5] Interview with Dr Shipra Mishra, General physician, RSP NGO, MDACS, March 03, 2021. [6] Interview with Padmini Shinde, Program Officer, MDACS, March 04, 2021.

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Yashwin Daga
Yashwin Daga
Mar 07, 2021

Nicely done, keep up the good work


Vyoma Ramesh
Vyoma Ramesh
Mar 07, 2021

Love the article! So detailed and we'll written!

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