India is known to have a growing services sector, soon to become the dominant occupation and economic activity in India. It includes doctors, accountants and advocates among others.

Most of the above-mentioned professions require some form of licensing, permitting practitioners to carry on their activities. This is because their activities are of such nature that they are guaranteed some rights and protection in order to work. It keeps their names on record with a dedicated organisation looking after their welfare and keeping them in line with certain rules and regulations. It recognises their affiliation to their occupation and their right to proceed with related activities.

One “service” related occupation – sex-work – does not mandate a license. It lacks proper legalisation and has variants which are criminalised, depriving practitioners of legal status and protection.

Sex-work is an occupation whereby an individual (mostly women) accept money in exchange of providing sexual services. It has existed across civilisations from time immemorial, and sex-workers have usually enjoyed some degree of respect, even serving as priests in ancient temples. However, today sex-workers face social discrimination, living and working in adverse conditions.

Sex-work is an occupation that many do not take up by choice, but due to desperation. Yet, it is still an occupation all the same, and therefore its practitioners require adequate protection. For this, it is necessary to look at sex-workers as professionals rather than criminals or social deviants and for the Government to enact a proper legislation for their safeguard.

Bulk of the sex-trade is connected to human trafficking, i.e., involuntary. However, there are women who practice sex-work sans any pressure from traffickers. These women have exhausted other means of employment, are vulnerable to violence and exploitation by clients and have no recourse available.

While legislative measures, executive action and even activities of independent groups have attempted to tackle the problem, it continues to persist. Child prostitution in particular is a serious issue.

Sex-work is not per se illegal in India. The Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956 (the principle statute governing activities involving sex-work.), instead of banning sex-work, indirectly discourages such activity by prohibiting sex-work in public places, in brothels and soliciting for sex in public places (Sections 7 and 8).

It is aimed at discouraging trafficking of people, a major issue today. Cities like Mumbai are hubs for international trafficking – notorious for being home to Kamathipura, one of Asia’s largest red-light districts.

The result of prohibition on public solicitation indirectly contributes to the existence of brothels, since voluntary sex-workers mostly turn to pimps (whose activities are criminalised) for assistance and agency.

Pimps tend to act as masters rather than agents, landing women into brothels, dragging them into the world of crime despite attempting to carry out a profession that is not criminalised by law. Sex-work thus becomes a semi-legal profession, its practitioners living on the fringes of the law and the society.

Licensing could give sex-workers legal rights and a legal standing, similar to practitioners of other services such as advocates, doctors, agents of any kind, etc. It could award the following benefits-

  1. Legal Protection

Being a licensed practitioner means the state recognises sex-workers as a class of professionals, governed by a regulatory body. Sex-workers can (social stigma apart) be open about their profession whenever necessary, easily acquiring important resources required to carry on their business, giving them documented legal rights.

E.g. a licensed sex-worker could access medical facilities (condoms, abortions, sterilisations) with fewer hassles. They could record client information in case of any malpractice by the clients, making it easier to pursue legal action against them. Licensing also allows them to practice minus harassment by authorities.

  1. Healthcare

Medical resources become an important part of sex-workers’ professional life. They need condoms in order to practice while immunised against STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Licensed sex-workers present a persuasive case when demanding services, viz. abortions and sterilisation. Also, they could refuse to entertain clients failing to meet certain healthcare standards or refusing to use protection.

  1. Targeting Real Criminals

The actual criminals in this sphere are pimps, traffickers and brothel owners. They act as agents that regulate the supply in the sex “market”. They force (mostly) women to be a part of the trade, restrict their movement, force clients upon them and even take their “fair share” from the sex-workers’ earnings.

Licenses allow sex-workers to function independently of pimps. It will give them the freedom to choose the number of clients they can take on a given day (excess sexual activity could be fatal). With mandatory licencing, it becomes easier to contain child trafficking.

  1. Taxation

Sex-workers could be made responsible taxpayers. It will add to the revenue of the state, since the global value of sex-trade is around $100 billion (according to the website which analyses the black economy). Also, it will enable the state to recover the amounts spent on developing the discussed regulations.

The objective of this essay is not to promote the occupation of sex-work, to make the case for a welfare legislation. The ideas of morality cannot be used a veil that covers the issue a section of the society faces. Licensing serves as a way to protect sex-workers and also discourage sex-work with the legal complications involved.


  1. The Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956 (India).
  2. Arguments for and against legalising prostitution, DEBATING EUROPE (Dec, 23, 2017),
  3. Human Trafficking Statistics, HAVOCSCOPE (Dec. 23, 2017),
  4. Sakshi Khanna, No Means of Livelihood, Women Forced Into Prostitution in Andhra’s Anantpur, NEWS18 (Feb. 14, 2018),
  5. Richard Mountford & Radojka Miljevic, Whether or not to legalise prostitution, THE GUARDIAN (Dec. 27, 2017),
  6. Ashwati Mohan, Legalisation of prostitution in India – Pros and Cons, WOMENNOW (Dec. 26, 2017),


-Shaarang Iyer and Shubham Mandil,

T.Y.B.A., LL.B