No law yet, Supreme Court asks cops to treat sex workers with dignity

With the Centre yet to come up with a law on sex workers, the Supreme Court, in exercise of its powers under Article 142, has issued a series of directions on their “rehabilitation”, including for sensitising police to treat sex workers with dignity and to avoid abusing them or subjecting them to violence.

A bench presided by Justice L Nageswara Rao also asked the Centre to spell out its stand on recommendation by a panel appointed by it in 2011 to exempt sex workers — who are adults and participates with consent — from criminal action.

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The bench, also comprising Justices B F Gavai and A S Bopanna, asked states and Union Territories to “act in strict compliance of” some of these “recommendations”, which “relate only to rehabilitation measures in respect of sex workers and other connected issues”. The bench said, “It need not be gainsaid that notwithstanding the profession, every individual in this country has a right to a dignified life under Article 21 of the Constitution. Constitutional protection that is given to all individuals in this country shall be kept in mind by the authorities who have a duty under Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act,1956.”

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In its May 19 order, the bench asked the Centre to place its views in six weeks on recommendations on which it had reservations. This came after Additional Solicitor General Jayant Sud informed the bench that the government had “certain reservations” on some of the panel’s recommendations.

On July 19, 2011, the court had ordered setting up of a panel headed by senior advocate Pradip Ghosh as chairman to suggest measures to prevent trafficking, rehabilitate sex workers who wish to leave it, and also to make conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working to do that with dignity.

The committee also included senior advocate Jayant Bhushan, Usha Multipurpose Cooperative Society through its president/secretary, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee through its president/secretary, and NGO Roshni Academy through its founder Saima Hasan. The panel submitted a series of recommendations.

Hearing the matter on May 19, the SC noted that in 2016 “the recommendations were considered by the Government of India and a draft legislation was published incorporating the recommendations”. However, since the law has not yet been made, the court said it is exercising powers under Article 142 to direct implementation of some of the recommendations.

The court said: “As the legislation has not been made till date, even though the recommendations were made by the Panel in 2016 and the said recommendations have to be implemented, we are exercising our powers conferred under Article 142 of the Constitution, to issue the following directions which will hold the field till a legislation is made by the Union of India.” It directed that of the 10 recommendations, six of them which “relate…to the rehabilitation measures in respect of sex workers and other connected issues” be implemented and asked states and union territories “to act in strict compliance of the recommendations”.

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