Status of Women in Sex Work in India


Status of Women in Sex Work in India was submitted by the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations, India, at the 58th session of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, held in Geneva on June 1, 2014. (Read the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.)

The report’s authors include members of the Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalisation (CASAM), Sangli; Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha (SANGRAM), Sangli; Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM), Pune; and Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP), Sangli – organisations that advocate the rights women and sex workers. The report contains case studies provided by the National Network of Sex Workers, a collective of workers and organisations in India.

The report aims to review the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, which – it says – creates an atmosphere that criminalises sex work in India. It contains statistics regarding sex work in the country and discusses the violence and barriers to justice that workers face. The report asserts that women in sex work are entitled to economic, political, social, civil and cultural rights. It recommends that the government implement measures to address trafficking that do not infringe on the human rights of sex workers.

The 54-page publication has six chapters: Background (Chapter 1); Shift in Global Understanding of Rights of Sex Workers (Chapter 2); Lack of Access to Justice for Sex Workers (Chapter 3); Status of Sex Workers in India (Chapter 4); State Response and Concerns (Chapter 5) and Recommendations (Chapter 6).


  1. The report says that there are over 800,000 sex workers in India, citing data from the 2007-2012 programme of the government of India’s National Aids Control Organisation.

  2. Referring to a survey of 3,000 sex workers in 14 Indian states, the report says that many sex workers have prior experience in alternate occupations and choose this work for better income and livelihood opportunities. The survey was conducted by the Pune-based researchers Rohini Sahni and V. Kalyan Shankar, and published in 2013 in the working paper ‘Sex Work and its Linkages with Informal Labour Markets in India: Findings from the First Pan‐India Survey of Female Sex Workers’.

  3. Several United Nations resolutions, as well as international agencies and commissions, advocate an approach to sex work that centres the human rights of workers. They emphasise the need to protect rights by decriminalising sex work and holding governments accountable for the unjust application of laws and regulations against sex workers.

  4. Quoting a 2011 UN Women publication, the report says that women’s access to justice is constrained due to social barriers, their lack of resources and dependence on male relatives, and that the justice system does not have the capacity to deal women’s needs. The stigma attached to sex work poses as another barrier to justice.

  5. The moral judgements attached to sex work exposes women to violence in their personal spaces from partners as well as family members. The report cites case studies to show that police abuse, illegal detentions, and custodial violence – including sexual abuse in custody – are other forms of violence that women in sex work face.

  6. The conflation of sex work with trafficking leads to patriarchal measures that focus on the rescue and rehabilitation of such workers, rather than giving them labour rights. Such protectionist measures are often carried out without the consent of sex workers, many of whom face coercive violence in the process.

  7. The stigma attached to sex work, along with workers’ lack of awareness, illiteracy and the fear of the medical establishment, hinder these women’s access to healthcare. Such stigma, along with the migratory nature of their work, prevents sex workers from accessing identification documents that are essential to accessing entitlements such as food and children’s education. Further, sex workers are usually denied a safe working environment and standard labour protection measures.

  8. There is a duality in the State’s approach to sex work, says the report. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s National Aids Control Programme emphasises training sex workers to manage and run plans under the scheme, affirming the principle of ‘voluntary entry and exit from sex work’. However, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has adopted a more protectionist approach seeking to rescue and rehabilitate sex workers by giving them shelter, medical and legal aid as well as vocational training to ‘re-integrate’ them in society.

    Focus and Factoids by Ishita Pradeep.


Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalisation, Sangli; Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha, Sangli; Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal, Pune; and Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad, Sangli.


Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalisation, Sangli; Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha, Sangli; Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal, Pune; and Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad, Sangli.


01 Jun, 2014