Commercialization of sex is very much prevalent today. Here the women and children are treated as like commodities in the flesh market. The market grows each day as more and more oppressed and economically deprived women get coerced into sexual servitude. With the advancement in technology and changes in the political and economic scenarios, the traditional practices of sexual exploitation of women are acquiring new dimensions and forms. Profession of sex is colored with emotion, ideology, personal advancement and exploitative structure. We live in a world of sexual explosion, Medias, magazines; advertisements etc. play important parts in it. Lack of knowledge about sex leads a lot of people to the distorted use of sex. Authoritarianism and legalistic approach towards sex is a negative position and Roman Catholic gives value to chastity and celibacy. The Church treated sexuality as the horrific immorality. To this day Christianity thinks an adulterer more sinful than a politician who takes bribes, although the latter probably does thousand times as much harm. Human sexuality is divinely ordained nature. Sexuality is part of the distinctiveness of humanity. According to the Genesis story sexuality is based on human structure. Sex contains the capacity for personal affirmation and mutuality. Here the question is how you will relate sexuality with the religious and social values. How can we permit the sexual labor community or commercial sex workers to co-exist in the society? Prostitution is main form of commercial sex work. This paper highlights causes, evils and struggle for rights of commercial sex workers.


The word prostitution has been derived from the Latin word ‘prostibula’ or proseda.[1] In the ancient Greek context harlots stood in front of their houses to entice the passer-by in the afternoons. From this practice the word originated. According to G.R. Scott, ‘an individual who for some kind of new (monetary or otherwise) or for some other personal satisfaction and as a part or full time profession, engages in normal or abnormal sexual intercourse with various persons who may be of the same sex or the opposite sex is the prostitute.[2] Kathleen Barry gives guidelines for a new definition of prostitution which can be applied cross-culturally and historically. She defines prostitution as “the provision of sexual services in exchange for material gains. This provision may be induced by one or more of a variety of conditions: Physical coercion (compulsion), socio-economic coercion (sexual abuse, poverty), acquisition by pure base; individual decision”.[3]

Nalini Jameela, one of the sex workers prefers to use the word ‘commercial sex worker’ (CSW) instead of the term prostitute because the latter denotes a negative connotation. She justifies this by arguing that the barbers of Kerala were known as ‘churakas’ (Churakanmar) which has a negative meaning. In order to maintain a better status in the society they changed this title as ‘barber’ an they formed barbers association.[4]

Sex workers: Past and Present

Street walkers, brothels, Davadasi system are the oldest form of commercial sex. Economic and Social marginalization causes to organize them around prostitution. Street walkers, common prostitutes and call girls are different categories among prostitutes. A report of Human Resource Development Ministry in 1995 stated that in Bombay and Hyderabad, where the sex industry was rampant there were an estimated 70,000 to 1, 00,000 women in prostitution and 15% were estimated to be below the age of 15 years. Of this total population 2.6% are Nepalese and 2.7% of them are from Bangladesh. Brothels and red light areas are existing in India.[5] The society girls belong to the elite or upper middle class families, who live in private houses, are educated and gainfully employed enter into the trade not on account of any compulsion or financial constraints but for fun and extra income needed for meeting the expenses of their luxurious life. They are called call girls. Today many women are leading a double life playing the smart neighborhood girls on weekends and dashing off for weekend liaisons with stagers.

Children and Commercial sex market

Sociologists feel the children in commercial sex are on the rise in every Asian country.[6] Now commercial sexual exploitation of children is a Global problem requiring international cooperation. This illegal industry includes pornography, sex tourism and trafficking in Children. In 1991 government of India initiated a survey of prostitution through a Central Social Welfare Board in six metropolitan cities in India. This study indicates at the time of entry in Sex industry, 15% of the women are the category of children and 25% are minor between the ages of 16-18 years.[7] Human Rights Watch, Asia, estimated that there are 20,000 Nepalese girls in Mumbai’s brothels. It adds that the average age of Nepalese girls recruited for prostitution was 10-14 years of in 1991.[8]

Causes of Prostitution

Prostitution is rampant in the present context because of various reasons:

(1) Economic causes: Though the economic compulsions constitute the major factor in the causation of prostitution, it is by no means the only and exclusive cause of the phenomenon. In India, there are many prostitutes, who are compelled to adopt prostitution to feed themselves and their dependants. At the same time there are many prostitutes who hail from well do families. The economic factors are comprised of (a) Poverty: It is the main economic factor responsible for prostitution. A woman (illiterate, semi-literate or literate) unable to get any gainful employment and has no support must either starve to death or earn livelihood through prostitution. (b) Underage Employment: many female have to work in hotels, offices, industry and shop at immature age. At their impressionable age they are easily mislead by lust seekers. (c) Bad work Environment: In India many women are able to get employment through intermediaries. Whenever opportunities offer itself they exploit it fully and often succeed in receiving sexual bribe. Once a women falls prey to their lust, they no time make a professional out of her. (d) Immoral Traffic in Children and Women: Many tender girls are kidnapped by unscrupulous gangsters. They probably train them in the art of sex work and when these girls mature they are sold.

(2) Social Causes: The Social causes are extremely important factors in encouraging and promoting prostitution. The social factors comprised of (a) Family factors: Most of the prostitutes are connected with family troubles. Their parents were either living separately or their family relations were so strained that as children they were left to their own machinations and received no love. The children of criminals show a marked tendency to become prostitutes. An unloved child when she grows up offers all of herself to any one showing any degree of love and affection. (b) Marital factors: Many superstitions prevalent in India force women into prostitution. E.g. Widow re-marriage is till frowned upon. Therefore the widows unable to remarry were forced to become prostitutes. In India homes particularly in villagers and the poor the illicit connections are common and these connections are temporary and do not meets the sex needs of young women fully. They take to prostitution are a last resort. (c) Illegitimate motherhood: The Women who become pregnant as a result of their liaisons and who cannot get abortion are exposed in society. Nobody wants to remarry them bout everybody wants to enjoy them sexually. Desperately such women prefer to become regular prostitutes.

(3) Psychological causes: There are some psychological facts, which tend the person towards prostitution. A Woman who is frigid become desperate tries one man after another. Because of frigidity she is unable to experience pleasure and become a prostitute by trial and error. Some women are incapable of submission. In order to assert their independence they consort with other men.[9] There is also possibility due to the lack of proper sexual education, psychological possibility with the gender identity and punishing the animas (the maleness in female) which can lead to distorted sexual behavior.

(4) Biological factors: The person born with defective sex organs and overactive glands may feel compelled to sex gratification in a strange manner.[10]

(5) Religious and cultural factors: In India there has been religious sanctions to prostitution. The Devadasi (god slaves or temple prostitutes) system forced the girls to become prostitutes. There are certain religious sects in India and abroad in which the priest had the right to deflower every newly married girls. The polygamy and polyandry sanctioned by many societies are sophistications of prostitution. In many cultures, a guest is honored by the offer of wife or daughter by the host.[11]

Feminist view point on Sex work

Feminist hate the exploitation of women’s sexuality by profiteers and some feel instinctively that sex-work supports on objectification of women’s sexuality and of whom that is somehow related to the violence against women. Some argue that sex workers provide a great social service for they save millions of respectable women from being pounced upon by sex-hungry men. Others see sex workers as oppressed and unable, by the very nature of their work, to recognize that oppression. This group, therefore, tends to exclude the voices of women in the profession itself who disagree with them. One woman claims “All work involves selling some part of your body….I choice to sell my sexual organs… that is the only difference.” [12] Nalini Jameela, one of the sex workers in Kerala, opines that, at least four reasons CSW are superior to other women: a) when a child is born sex workers do not go in search for fatherhood. b) There is no need for waiting for husband. c) There is more sexual freedom than ordinary house wife. d) There is freedom to select the father of the child and also bringing up of the child.[13] The International Labor Organization has recognized CSW as labor.[14] Jean D’ Cunha pointed out that Liberation feminism demands legal reforms that recognized prostitution as a valid form of labour and aim at safeguarding women in prostitution against discriminatory and exploitative practices.[15]

Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act

The suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act (SITA), 1956 was amended in 1986 as central Government introduced the Immoral Traffic in Persons Prevent in Act. The SITA as its name suggests, aims at abolishing traffic in women and girls for prostitution. So it penalizes brothel keeping, pimping, procuring, detention of a women or girl for prostitution and seduction of women in custody. The practice of prostitution individually, independently and voluntarily by a women does not constitute an offence. But punishment was given when there is prostitute and set free the client which is an example for double morality and challenging the women’s rights.[16] The severe human right violation is that even children are kidnapped and sold to the brothel-keepers as it is a lucrative trade. It is observed by D’ Cunha that a minor girl who is a virgin is sold for any thing between Rs.500 to Rs. 7000 in Kamathipura.[17] Immoral Traffic in Person Prevention Act, 1986 includes both male and female who engage in prostitution. It also defines prostitution as any form of sexual exploitation or abuse or commercial purpose.

Three systems of law have been formulated and applied in various parts of the world with respect to prostitution.[18] They are such as

(1) Prohibitionism: This system as it exists in USA, Japan and the like, bans prostitution per se. by itself. It criminalizes the activities of all categories of people involved in prostitution, namely, brothel keeper, pimps, procurers, prostitutes and clients. In its actual operation, it is discriminatory enforced against the women. It over whelmingly penalizes the prostitute while the men who derive profit and pleasures from prostitution (i.e. pimps and Clients).

(2) Tolerationism: This system is closely in accordance with the United Nations 1949 convention decision and has been adopted in several countries. This system does not seek to abolish prostitution or prostitution per se. it is only targeted at trafficking in women and girls for prostitution, brothel keeping, pimping, and procuring. Under this system prostitutes are not supposed to be criminalized by virtue of their work and have more or less the same rights as other citizens.

(3) Legalization of prostitution: Many countries have adopted the system of legalized prostitution. The Prostitution was a legal activity in 19th century in England and India. Legalization permits prostitution in ‘closed houses’ or Eros centers. Under this system, prostitutes are required to register themselves with the local authorities and submit themselves for periodic health certificates and a VD clearance card, which must be presented every periodic examination at the VD control clinic. It is only after this formality that a prostitute is issued a police clearance and a government license, which permits her to ply her trade professionally.

Organizations of prostitutes and their rights

The demand for legalization and licensing of prostitution has been raised, so as to allow for unionization of prostitutes against police harassment and for provision of welfare measures for prostitute women and their children.

The Bharatiya Patita Udhar Sabha: It is a Delhi based Prostitute’s Right Organization was founded in May 1984 by Khairati Lal Bhola, who claimed to be a social worker. In 1985, the president was Nimmibai, a big time brothel keeper. She has been arrested for brothel keeping several times and has several changes against her. The organization demands legalization and licensing of prostitutes, a measure by which they also wish to monitor the health of prostitutes.

The Asahaya Tirskrut Nari Sangh: It is another prostitute rights organization was established in Kamathipura, Bombay’s largest red-light area. The sangh was floated primarily by the Indian Health Organization. The Sangh has been demanding licensing of prostitution, registration of prostitutes, monitoring of prostitute’s health to curb the incidence of STD’s and AIDS, for whose spread prostitutes are considered responsible, abolition of forced and child prostitutes. The Sangh also formed a cooperative credit society to free prostitutes from the clutches of money lenders.

The Pune Devadasi Sangatna: This Sangatna was established in 1981 in Budhwarpeth, Pune. Organization demands that prostitution be given social and legal recognition and prostitute be given license to practice. It also demands curbs on police harassment, free health care and bank loans to set up small businesses. The Sanghatna has formed a cooperative credit society with funds from the Government and local trust.

The International committee for Prostitutes’ rights has drawn up a World Charter for Prostitutes’ Rights which guarantees the prostitutes all human rights and liberties including the freedom of speech, travel, immigration, work, marriage and mother-hood, and the right to unemployment insurance, health insurance and housing.

Commercial Sex Workers: A Christian response

Even though Bible condemns adultery and prostitution as evil, attention are to be diverted to the circumstances of context which led to this evil. Jesus in his time was aware of the situations, especially that of the social structure, which lead to prostitution. Their context and their struggle and helplessness were considered by Jesus in a compassionate manner, as can be seen in the case of women caught in adultery. He let her go freely with warning that she should sin no more.[19] In the same way, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman. He was people oriented in his ethics and overcome the rigid rules in a more human way. The Pauline writings also warned against the misuse of sex and the sexual perversions. Prostitution was viewed by Paul as a sexual immorality. (I Cor: 6:15)

Christians are responsible to provide spiritual direction, rehabilitation, education for the children, humanness and love, counselling, medical service, housing, gainful employment, legal services, empowerment programs and awareness about commercial sexual exploitation etc., to CSW. We are responsible to help them to come out from exploitative structure in CSW that lead them as marginalized oppressed and physically and psychologically depressed group.


Trafficking in young women, under-aged girls and children for commercial sexual exploitation has emerged as one of the most formidable challenges in the new millennium. It is threatening the dignity of women and destroying them physically, psychologically, emotionally and socio-economically. In order to maximize their profits, the market forces are denying women and children of their basic rights and denying them their rights to life with dignity. The commercialization of sex is a dehumanizing phenomenon and is negating the accomplishments of the struggles for women’s emancipation and empowerment. Commercial sex workers are arguing for rights and acceptance in the society similar to others because even their basic rights were denied. It is important to preserve the dignity of women and children and prevent the degradation of human civilization at all cost.


Chakraborty, Dipangshu. Atrocities in Indian women. (New Delhi: A.P.H Publishing, 1997).

Vatsyayan. Urban Society. (Delhi: Kedarnath Ramnath, 1984).

D’ Cunha, Jean. The Legalisation of Prostitution. (Banglore: Word Marks, 1991).

Jameela, Nalini. Oru Lymkikathozhilaliyude Atmakadha. (Malayalam: Translation: A Sex workers Autobiography) (Kottayam: D.C. Books, 2005).

Sen, Shalini and Lalitha S.A. Women Soliciting Change. (New Delhi: Indian Social Institute, 1998).

Sherwani, Azim. The girl Child in Crisis. (New Delhi: Indian Social Institute, 1998).

Stephen, M. Introduction to Christian Ethics. (Delhi: ISPCK, 2003).

[1] Dipangshu Chakraborty, Atrocities in Indian women (New Delhi: A.P.H Publishing, 1997), 81.

[2] Vatsyayan, Urban Society (Delhi: Kedarnath Ramnath, 1984), 204.

[3] Jean D’ Cunha, The Legalisation of Prostitution (Banglore: Word Marks, 1991), 17.

[4] Nalini Jameela, Oru Lymkikathozhilaliyude Atmakadha (Malayalam: Translation: A Sex workers Autobiography) (Kottayam: D.C. Books, 2005), 109.

[5] Dipangshu Chakraborty, 83.

[6] Shalini Sen and Lalitha S.A, 4-5.

[7] Shalini Sen and Lalitha S.A, Women Soliciting Change (New Delhi: Indian Social Institute, 1998), 35.

[8] Azim Sherwani, The girl Child in Crisis (New delhi: Indian Social Institute, 1998), 64.

[9] Vatsyayan, Urban Society (Delhi: Kedarnath Ramnath, 1984), 204.

[10] Vatsyayan, 204.

[11] Vatsyayan, 204.

[12] Shalini Sen and Lalitha S.A, 6-7.

[13] Nalini Jameela, 109.

[14] Shalini Sen and Lalitha S.A, 8.

[15] Jean D’ Cunha, The Legalization of Prostitution (Banglore: Work Markers, 1991), 110.

[16] Jean D’ Cunha, 43.

[17] Jean D’ Cunha, 42.

[18] Jean D’ Cunha, 42.

[19] M. Stephen, Introduction to Christian Ethics (Delhi: ISPCK, 2003), 293.


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