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Prostitution in India (by Wojciech Gryc)

Assume for a bit that you’ve lived in Nepal for your whole life. Your family owns a farm and it’s July: farming is slow and there is a lack of finances. After a few weeks, a foreigner visits your town and talks to your family, telling them about the many possibilities of work in the cities of India. The talk of work, money, and even marriage make your parents happy, and they agree to pay the required fee to send you with the foreigner. You’ve just been sold into prostitution.

Many prostitutes did not choose to work the way they do. In many cases, they were sold or tricked by their relatives or agents working for brothel owners and pimps. Families selling their children to such work may be tricked, and can offer their children for as little as $4.00 US. A meager amount, but one that could be the difference between life and death for a starving family. In Bombay alone, Human Rights Watch estimated that as many as 50,000 foreign prostitutes work in brothels. Many of these workers are also children, and the statistics speak for themselves. UNICEF estimates 500,000 child sex workers work in India alone.

The life of a prostitute in India is terribly difficult and painful. When they first arrive, prostitutes are “broken in” through savage beatings, rapes, and other forms of psychological and physical torture. Those who resist are treated with harsher punishments, and life can get much worse, depending on the conditions of the brothel. The worst are called “pillow houses”, where prostitutes are separated by cloth dividers in tiny rooms. Visitors can pay $3 for a few minutes, and prostitutes are not even allowed to talk to their customers. The brothel owner keeps the money, and may allow as many as forty visitors a day.

Escape is not an option. Once a prostitute arrives at a brothel and a deal is struck between the agent and brothel owner, the prostitute must work off her cost for the brothel owner. In some cases, interest is charged to keep the prostitute from leaving, while other brothel owners never decrease a prostitute’s amount of debt. Though originally bought for as little as a few dollars, a prostitute can be sold for more than a thousand, allowing the agent bringing her to the brothel to make a large profit and thus making the trafficking of prostitutes a lucrative business.

The issue of child sex workers is just as disconcerting. Many prostitutes working in Indian brothels are children, and many more are tempted into the sex trade by sex tourists and pedophiles who offer children money and other rewards for sexual activities. In Goa – just one Indian city – as many as 10,000 pedophiles visit each year. When they become victims of such acts, seventy percent of children do not even tell anyone.

Both aspects of the sex trade are not permitted by Indian and international law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and many other international treaties and agreements speak out against the sex trade, rape, torture, and forced labour. The forced confinement, indefinite indebtedness to brothel owners, and constant abuse make prostitutes fall into the definition of slaves, making prostitution illegal in multiple ways.

Indian law, too, makes forced prostitution illegal. Some laws that strive to protect people include the 1976 Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, which makes bonded and slave labour illegal. The Indian Penal Code, under Article 374, also makes it illegal to force someone into any sort of labour.

Though illegal, many prostitutes never receive the help they deserve. Many police officers in major cities are bribed and in some cases, use prostitutes on a regular basis. Border police ensuring that people are not smuggled between nations bordering India have also been known to offer bribes. Without the support of law enforcement officials, prostitutes have little or no hope of ever freeing themselves from their work.

Escape, especially without the help of other people, is also nearly impossible. Prostitutes are usually guarded and kept under watch constantly. Even if they get past the threats and security, most prostitutes have nowhere to go, as they are illiterate and have been smuggled into the city. Many actually go back to the brothel and negotiate work deals that force them into larger debts, while others are punished for their actions. The response of police can be quite grim. In one case, a girl who escaped from her brothel and went to police was raped by them, and brought back to her owner the following day.

Prostitution is an international problem rather than a national one, and must be addressed by all nations. Those who have their citizens smuggled to India and other nations must tighten security and offer more support and training for those patrolling borders. However, the problem extends beyond these nations. A third of the pedophiles in Goa were reported to be European, but many countries have done little to stop their citizens from partaking in sex tourism.

India is not an isolated case when it comes to the sex trade and problems thereof. Many nations suffer from human trafficking, forced prostitution, and the use of child sex workers. Though the statistics are devastating and the personal tragedies even more so, little has been done to stop the problem from occurring on a regular basis. Though not perfect, many laws exist to stop the problem on international and national levels, and it’s time countries took the responsibility to ensure they are respected. The current situation, where doing a simple internet search can yield results on sex tourism and advice, is unacceptable.


“Child Prostitution in Nepal/India.” Plan UK. 2 April 2004. 30 June 2004. <http://www.plan-uk.org/wherewework/asia/india/childprostitution/>.

“Goa becoming hub of child prostitution.” 28 May 2004. 30 June 2004. <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/704491.cms>.

“Rape for Profit.” Human Rights Watch. October 1995. 30 June 2004. <http://www.hrw.org/reports/1995/India.htm>.

“The Ultimate Abuse.” UNICEF. January 1995. 30 June 2004. <http://www.unicef.org/pon95/chil0015.html>.

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