top of page

Regulation and Legalization of Sex Work

By – Aditya Shankar Singh

B.A L.L. B


Sex Work or Prostitution is a gendered, sexualized, and racialized labor system, one that typically involves the exchange of sexual services for money, goods, or other benefits. Sex work encompasses different types of intimate arrangements that blur the boundaries between erotic, emotional, and economic labor.

Sex work is also part of an industry and commercial market that is global in reach and diverse in its spatial, legal, and occupational organization. This article aims to investigates the multifaceted dimensions of prostitution and sex work in a twenty-first century socio-legal context while comparing its legality in India and in other Foreign states. Sex work is not something that is new to our society, in-fact it has existed in our societies since and is one of the oldest professions of the world. We can find historical proofs in numerous documents across the globe for example the Torah (Hebrew bible), The Old testament, and numerous other accounts both religious and non-religious acknowledging the existence of the profession, and it has rightfully earned its name as “the world’s oldest profession”.

History of Sex Work

To understand the legalization and regulation of Sex work we have to go through the history of the trade. Prostitution has traces of its existence as far back as the 18th century BCE. The Babylon set of rules, the Code of Hammurabi considered as one of the earliest and most complete written legal codes, contains provisions for the right of inheritance to prostitutes in Babylonia.

In the European context as well, prostitutes were considered to be performance artists and had the same rights as dancers and gladiators, they weren’t given citizen rights in the Roman empire and had to register themselves and to identify publicly as a prostitute. But the senate never had any plans to discontinue or abolish prostitution even though they looked down upon the sex workers themselves

As for the Indian context, the earliest mention of prostitution in ancient India is seen in the Rigveda, a tale of two illicit lovers Jara and Jatini. An exchange of gifts and/or payments took place between the prostitute and client in exchange of sexual favors.

Pataliputra was at the time of Chandra Gupta Maurya a flourishing center of prostitution and it was the first time the attention of the State was drawn to the colony of prostitutes for its effective control and to bring it under the obligation of a stabilized taxation system. Brothel keeping was looked upon as a source of Govt. revenue. Kautilya has used the words such as Ganika, Praganika, Dasi, Devadasi, Rupijiva etc. for the prostitutes and courtesans.Kautilya’s Arthashastra contains rules for prostitutes and their activities and gives an account of how prostitutes should behave and how their lives be ordered.. Similarly, in Europe the church required that prostitutes adopt some type of distinctive clothing, which each particular city government was allowed to select. For example, in Milan the garment of choice was a black cloak, while in Florence prostitutes wore gloves and bells on their hats. Failure to adhere to said dress code would result in immediate public stripping if the women were found out.

Current Scenario in India and Other Countries

In the India, prostitution is not explicitly illegal though pronounced to be unethical by the Court, certain acts that facilitate prostitution are regarded as illegal and acts like managing brothels, living off the money procured by means of prostitution, soliciting or luring a person into prostitution, traffic of children and women for the purpose of prostitution, etc. are made illegal by the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA). For example, running a sex racquet is illegal but private prostitution or receiving remuneration in exchange for sex with consent without prior solicitation might not be illegal.

There are majorly 3 types of bans when it comes to sex work, first is the legal and regulated, second is prohibited but legal (limitedly legal) and finally outright illegal. Most countries initiate the limitedly legal way, so does India. But the question is why not legalize and regulate the trade. India is on track to be the largest population on earth by 2040 maybe even sooner. Something like sex isn’t something Indians exactly shy away from, but publicly sex is a major taboo, not just in India but in most Asian countries.

In European countries however Sex work is decriminalized and strictly regulated by the govt. Specifically in the case of the Netherlands, Prior to the early 20th century, the Netherlands had abolished prostitution through national legislation. Anyone involved was criminalized. Public opinion and implementation have gradually become more lenient, giving rise to a more accepting attitude towards prostitution as a way of life. The tension between national law and local policy created an increasingly conflicting system. This eventually led to the passing of a Bill in 1983 that gave municipal enforcement the authority to regulate prostitution.

In 2015, Amnesty International started a mission to make policies for the insurance of the common liberties of sex workers. Secretary-General Salil Shetty's issued a statement where she said, "Sex workers are quite possibly the most discriminated against groups on the planet, who in most instances face constant risk of death, savagery and abuse." The decision to push ahead with this mission came after significant research with organizations such as UNAIDS, U.N. Women, WHO and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health.

Developing support for women's rights as workers is a significant step for the stability and insurance of prostitutes. The Netherlands is just one illustration of a successful administrative system in which prostitution is sanctioned and wellbeing and safety standards are applied. This kind of open sex strategy allows the public authority to uphold codes and regulations that are valuable to both the sex worker and the clientele. Legitimization does not need to mean public endorsement of prostitution, yet it does ensure sex workers have a nice living and a safer workplace. The general benefits of sanctioning prostitution are considerable and could demonstrate an asset in the battle to end global poverty and reintegrate a unfairly castrated group back into our societies.

Highly known red-light districts like G.B. Road at Delhi, Sonagachi in West Bengal, etc. women, men and transgender people are unfairly trapped in the trade and even females below the legal age of consent are trapped and are pimped out on a daily basis i.e., they are being raped at least 10-12 times a day because of lack of strict regulation and understanding. The workers go through various crises like diseases and sexual violence and unfair compensation, even being wrongfully confined and deprived of their basic human rights such egregious practices need to halt and we can look to other countries for solutions and resolve this massive underlying problem of sex trade and other problems that sex workers face daily.


Prostitution has always been seen in two different lights. One as a business enterprise that even institutions as superior as the Church or the seat of power in kingdoms in India could not snuff out due to the sheer insurgence in demand. This didn’t just become a means to please the subjects of the state but also become underground enterprises yielding heavy profits through institutions selling sex such as brothels. Nevertheless, the trade was always tagged with the toll of promiscuity it carried. The people trapped in the devious trade were outcasts in society and were berated solely for how they chose to earn their livelihoods. Prostitutes were expendable and even used in spy craft as found in Kautilya’s Arthashastra. They were subjected to violence and were treated poorly with almost little or no property or rights for themselves.

This is the 21st century and we as a society needs to be more lenient and understanding and also accepting. Legalization of prostitution could be adopted since abolition appears to be a daydream. This is a form of profession that has existed ever since the idea of Barter System came into existence and its high time that we treat the people AS PEOPLE and not the SCUM of society. We must strive to get our fellow citizens the basic rights they deserve and a better standard of life altogether.


41 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

I. BACKGROUND The advancement of internet trend has caused a shift in the business sector. Many business organisations have migrated to the internet realm of marketing and commerce, inc

Introduction Black’s law dictionary defines Double Jeopardy as: – A second prosecution after a first trial for the same offense. In India, protection against double jeopardy could be an elementary rig

INTRODUCTION Indian Parliament, in the preceding year passed three bills related to agriculture and farming, together known as the Farmers Bill. The Bills include The Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commer

bottom of page