Prostitution In India by
Prostitution In India by



Prostitution is regarded in India as the oldest profession of all time. Sex workers are also referred to as tawaif or devadasi. The legal status of this industry varies from one country to the other. The industry is worth more than $100 billion globally and its history can be traced back to 4000 years back to ancient Babylon. The industry is not only driven by physical pleasure alone, instead, it is largely driven by psychological and economical distresses, which drive a lot of people in drove to prostitution.


In India, it is legal to practice prostitution, but other related activities such as pimping, soliciting, and brothels are illegal. There are over 20 million sex workers in India if we are to judge by the recent Human Rights Watch report. The report asserted that most of the sex workers entered the industry when they were less than 18 years.


Once upon a time, prostitution was a theme of Indian arts and literature for centuries. In India mythology, there are a lot of references serving as a high-class prostitute in the form of celestial demigod. They are usually referred to as Rambha, Menaka, Urvashi, as well as Thilothamma. These prostitutes are described as excellent embodiments of beauty and feminine charms.


Even during the rule of Mughals and the medieval period, they were treated with royalty. They even appeared in movies. Some of these movies provided an insight into the plights of prostitution in India. However, the fact still lies hidden.


This article will take a look at the prostitution industry in India, as well as examine the laws protecting sex workers. Without further ado, let’s set the ball rolling.



Prostitution is the exchange of sexual pleasure for financial benefits. In India, it is legal to practice prostitution. There are other related activities that are illegal such as:

  • Soliciting in a public place
  • Kerb crawling
  • Owning or managing a brothel
  • Prostitution in a hotel
  • Child prostitution
  • Pimping and pandering


However, currently, there are many brothels operating illegally in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata.



Ever since the Mughal Empire collapsed, the situation has to a large extent deteriorated to the lowest ebb. When examining the immediate cause of prostitution, the first thing that comes to mind is poverty. Poverty is the major cause of prostitution. It drives helpless women into prostitution. An economically distressed woman, ill-treated by the parent or seduced by the boyfriend who is a pimp, and uneducated finds no other economic venture to feed herself other than prostitution.


In addition, there are other factors which make women vulnerable to prostitution. One of such factors is the fact that woman is seen as a commodity. In India, women are have had sexual experience are regarded as characterless or “used goods”, and are very likely not to get married. Hence, she becomes a poor outcast.

Other causes of prostitution are rapes, child prostitutes, religious prostitutes, failure to get married, and a host of other causes. In summary, the causes of prostitution are;

  • Economic Cause
  • Social Cause
  • Psychological Cause
  • Biological Cause
  • Religious and Cultural Cause
  • Family and community oriented prostitution, for instance, Mathamma community in Tiruvallur District, Badura Community in Jumbuliputhur in Dindigual District of Tamil Nadu, etc.
  • Lack of sex education
  • Inability to arrange marriage
  • Prior incest and rape
  • Early marriage and desertion
  • Lack of recreational facilities, ignorance, and acceptance of prostitution
  • Kidnapping and abduction
  • Sale by parents and husbands, especially in areas like Warangal, Chittoor, and Bellampalli, among others in Andhra Pradesh and in Northern states of M.P and U.P etc.
  • Deceit and cheating by parents.
  • Pornography including Soft and Strong literature and entertainment.
  • Problematic drug use and alcohol abuse.
  • Debt and Cast system in society



As it is a common knowledge, economic compulsion is the major cause of prostitution. The situation in India is critical. A lot of prostitutes fend for themselves and their families. However, poverty is not the only economic cause of prostitution. There are other causes such;

Poverty and Illiteracy: According to global statistics, poverty is the leading cause of crime. Prostitution is not left out of such crimes. It follows a chain. Poverty is the cause of illiteracy, illiteracy is the cause of unemployment, and unemployment is the cause of criminality.

Difficulty in getting jobs: Due to the difficulty in getting jobs, most woman in their active sexual age resort to prostitution in order to survive.

Underage employment: Due to poverty, so many underage females are forced to work in offices, hotels, stores, industries. At this age, they are easily violated sexually.

Immoral traffic of children and women: A lot of young girls are kidnapped by pimps. These pimps will start training them on prostitution at a very tender age. Once they are mature, they sell them off for financial gain.




In India, the law is vague on the industry itself. The law primarily dealing directly with sex workers is the Immoral Traffic (Suppression) ACT of 1956. Under this Act, sex workers are free to practice their profession privately. But the law frowns at soliciting for customers in public.


A BBC article mentioned recently that prostitution is illegal in India. Prostitution laws in Indian do not refer to the Act of selling one’s body for financial gratification as “prostitution”. However, customers may be punished for sexual activities that are conducted in public places. Organized prostitution such as pimping, brothels, and prostitution rings are classified as illegal activities. As long as the act is done voluntary and individually, a woman can use her body for financial benefits. However, male prostitution is not recognized by the Indian law, but consensual anal intercourse is illegal under the Indian Penal code.


In particular, the Immoral Traffic (Suppression) ACT of 1956 prohibits sex workers from practicing their profession within 200 yards from a public place. Under normal Labour laws, sex workers are not protected, but they possess the right to Rehabilitation and rescue if they so desire. Sex workers also enjoy the same right and privileges as other citizens.


Practically, the Immoral Traffic (Suppression) ACT of 1956 is not commonly used. The earlier law (Indian Penal Code) is often used to persecute sex workers for public decency or public nuisance. Attempt to amend the Immoral Traffic (Suppression) ACT of 1956 have severally been resisted by the Health Ministry. In Calcutta, a state-owned insurance company has made insurance provision for about 250 sex workers.


Over the years, there have been a lot of calls to legalize the act of prostitution in order to prevent middlemen from exploiting of sex workers and their children in the face of a growing HIV/AIDS menace.



The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act was amended in 1986 from the 1956 Act. The amendment was done because India was supposed to sign a UN declaration against trafficking in 1950. The Act was formerly regarded as the All India Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act (SITA). The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act was enacted in order to limit and abolish prostitution in India. The following are the major points of the ITPA Act:

  • Sex workers: The law frowns at sex workers who solicit or seduces clients. Conversely, call girls are barred from publishing their phone numbers in the public domain. Violators may be imprisoned for up to 6 months.
  • Clients: A client may be charged if he seeks the services of a sex worker within 200 yards in a public domain. He may be imprisoned for up to 3 months.
  • Pimps and Babus: Those that are earning a living from a sex worker are guilty under this Act. An adult male who permanently lives with a sex worker may be charged unless he proves otherwise.
  • Brothel: Owning and managing a brothel is illegal. Offenders shall be charged under this Act. Imprisonment may last up to 3 years in some cases.
  • Procuring and trafficking: Anybody that attempts to procure or traffic another person is liable to be punished.



Stigmatization is one of the factors that prevent sex workers from enjoying their rights to rescue and rehabilitation. Due to this discrimination, a lot of sex workers have been denied access to education, quality healthcare, safety, and importantly, the right to make money from prostitutes. Violence is not intrinsic to prostitution. It is as a result of discrimination of the sex workers. Areas where sex workers have formed a strong group and Union, violence against sex workers are considerably low.



Lack of adequate education is one of the major causes of prostitution in India. In a survey conducted recently, those practicing prostitution are generally not educated.


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