The Oldest Profession
Prostitution is considered to be the oldest profession known to mankind. Considered a legal and legitimate profession in many countries and as a criminal offense in others, prostitution is mired in a number of socio-economic and legal issues. The issues faced by sex workers go far beyond social stigma and abuse. Healthcare hazards and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS have made it necessary to manage the sex industry in almost every nation. The working conditions of sex workers across the globe open them up to a variety of risks including exploitation and blatant abuse of human and civil rights. A number of countries do not criminalize prostitution itself but penalize allied activities such as the running of brothels. To ascertain the best practices and to ensure protection of individual and social rights, a study of the various aspects of prostitution becomes imperative.
2010 reports suggest that prostitution is legal in seventy-seven countries of the world and has been declared a crime in about 109 countries. In eleven of the countries of the world prostitution is restricted and about five nations have no laws or statutes regulating prostitution and sex work. In the countries where prostitution is illegal the penalty varies from fines and imprisonment to capital punishment.
In the United States, Nevada is the only state to legalize prostitution. Eight of the states have about twenty-eight registered brothels and prostitution is illegal outside these registered centers. Between 1980 and 2009 prostitution was considered legal in the state of Rhode Island but only because no bill had been passed prohibiting prostitution, though pimping, running a brothel, and other allied trafficking activities were clearly illegal. In November 2009 Rhodes Island passed a law prohibiting prostitution and the trade of sexual services.
Prostitution is a legal industry in the following countries:
|Burkina Faso||Hong Kong||Poland|
|Central African Republic||Israel||Sierra Leone|
Apart from these countries, New Zealand has also decriminalized prostitution and sex work. In the USA organizations such as COYOTE have been actively campaigning for the decriminalization of prostitution as opposed to the legalization. In Australia prostitution is governed by state and territory laws making it legal and regulated in some territories and legal but unregulated in others. Some countries do not have any specific laws about prostitution and sex work and hence making it legal.
Human Trafficking and Slavery Issues
According to United Nations 2009 reports sex trafficking is the commonest form of human trafficking in the world making it the largest slave trade; about 79% of all human trafficking is for sex work and it is the fastest growing criminal industry globally. The countries which are major sources of human trafficking are Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Moldova, Nigeria, Thailand, and Ukraine.
In 2007 the US Department of State recorded that prostitution and allied activities such as pimping and running brothels are key factors that promote the growth of modern-day slavery and allow traffickers to operate. Thus, the toleration or legalization of prostitution would in turn increase the incidences of human trafficking and not curb it. Those who endorse legalization of prostitution, however, believe that exploitation and abuse in the sex industry thrives due to a lack of the recognition of the legal and social rights of the workers. The end to trafficking in women and children and their exploitation can only be achieved by empowering them with legal rights and then educating them about these.
Some of the strongest arguments in favor of legalizing prostitution or at the very least of regulating it are extended by health care experts. The spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) is associated with prostitution. The rapid spread of HIV/AIDS across the world, Asia and Africa in particular, is the most disconcerting issue healthcare experts are currently grappling with. UN estimates for 2009 suggest that about 22.9 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the sub Saharan Africa region. 2008 statistics show that about 4.7 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS in Asia. The South Asian epidemic is largely attributed to unsafe sex workers, their clients, and their sex practices.
The regulation and legalization of prostitution has been promoted by many as the only means to contain the STD epidemic.
In 2001 Priscilla Alexander wrote in her Research For Sex Work Article – “For HIV/AIDS prevention to succeed, the conditions of risk have to change. The context – legal, social, economic – of sex work has to change, with repeal of criminal laws … and occupational safety and health regulations, to reduce the imposition of risk from above.”
Other experts such as Jeffrey J. Barrows, DO, Health Consultant on Human Trafficking for the Christian Medical Association and John Bambenek, Executive Director of the Tumaini Foundation etc. have disassociated the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STDs with legalizing prostitution. Nothing short of abolishing sex work will help, they believe.
In the mid-1990s Thailand had steered clear of the legal implications of prostitution and launched a 100% condom campaign to curb the spread of AIDS in the country. Condom use with sex workers was pegged at 93% in 1995 and the incidences of AIDS infections dropped by 50%.
Violence Against Sex Workers
Violence and abuse of sex workers is a central issue of the debate. These are classified into rape, child abuse, physical assault etc. Melissa Farley and Howard Barkan in their 1998 survey of violence against sex workers in San Francisco revealed that over 82% had been physically abused. As many as 68% sex workers interviewed reported rape and 83% had been threatened with weapons. According to UN reports about 72% sex workers in Namibia are abused by clients and police. In India abuse has been reported by 70% sex workers. It is widely believed that abuse is under-reported by sex workers due to a lack of knowledge of their basic rights.
Advocates of legalized prostitution strongly believe that legalizing sex work and introducing registered brothels is likely to drastically reduce rape, physical assault, and violence against sex workers by providing them a safe working environment. Netherlands and Nevada (US) have been cited as popular examples for their low crime rates against sex workers. Critics, however, suggest that the very nature of prostitution exposes the workers to rape and violence. A high rate of murder of sex workers in Greece is indicative that legal prostitution may not always translate into a protective environment.
Human Rights and Civil Rights
The International Committee for Prostitutes’ Rights (ICPR) adopted the World Charter for Prostitutes’ Rights in 1985. The charter is an attempt to secure the human rights and civil liberties of prostitutes across the globe. While attempting to ensure that sex workers in all countries are endowed with civil rights including health and unemployment insurances and the freedom of speech, to travel, marry and live normal lives, the charter also endorses the payment of taxes by sex workers. This is believed to be the greatest attempt to legalize prostitution globally.
The charter is a controversial one and has invited criticism from feminists and other groups. The charter does not provide any liberating clauses and the distinction between voluntary and forced prostitution is dimmed, critics believe.
The prostitution of children is another issue hounding human rights activists and administrators across the world. If prostitution is legalized a minimum age limit will become a requisite. The handling of underage prostitutes is a gray area between legal and social services. Prostitution of children makes up about 40% of the sex industry in Thailand. In countries like India it is believed that about 1.2 million children are involved in the sex trade. With the rise in these figures Child Sex Tourism has also become a hazard which needs redressal.
Selling and Buying
In 1999, Sweden adopted a novel view and passed a groundbreaking legislation which decriminalized the buying of sexual services while making the buying of sex a criminal offence. Swedish researchers suggested that prostitution was a form of violence against women and children and in an attempt to protect the victims of the violence executed the law. The Swedish government followed up the legislation with robust social services for sex workers and the 2002 Act Prohibiting Human Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation. By 2005 it was recorded that over 60% sex workers had taken advantage of the administrative support extended to them and had quit prostitution. Critics believe that such legislations could force prostitution underground. Besides, the society in Sweden is largely feministic and the success is not likely to be replicated in other countries.
Countries of the World
Havoscope pegs the value of the global sex trade markets at US $187.17 billion. The biggest market is in China, amounting to about $ 73 billion. The prostitution market of Spain stands about $26.5 billion and the market of Japan stands at about $24 billion. In Germany, prostitution is a legal industry that is rated at $18 billion. In the United States the $14.6 billion prostitution market is the fifth largest in the world. The size of the market, however, cannot be determined by these figures since in many parts of Asia and Africa, sex workers are heavily underpaid if at all.
In the following countries prostitution amounts to a criminal offence
|Antigua and Barbuda||Jordan||Saint Vincent and the Grenadines|
|The Bahamas||North Korea||San Marino|
|Bahrain||South Korea||Sao Tome and Principe|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Libya||Slovenia|
|Burundi||Macedonia [FYROM]||South Africa|
|Republic of the Congo||Federated States of Micronesia||Tajikistan|
|Dominica||Mongolia||Trinidad and Tobago|
|Gabon||Nigeria||United Arab Emirates|
|Gambia, The||Oman||United States|
|Grenada||Papua New Guinea||Vietnam|
In a number of nations, prostitution by itself is not illegal but other associated activities including solicitation, running brothels and pimping are deemed illegal thus making it almost impossible to engage in prostitution without violating other laws. These countries include:
|Democratic Republic of Congo|
Is regulated prostitution, an effective solution? Will legalization allow for better monitoring of the health, social, and economic risks posed by prostitution? Will decriminalizing the seller and penalizing the buyer end the woes of sex workers across the world? Do individual societies and nations need to develop their personalized solution or will a global program be effective in the sex industry?
Will Legal Endorsement Rid Prostitution Of Its Evils?