Today, the Union Cabinet will take up the Immoral Traffic Prevention (Amendment) Bill to enhance the punishment for those involved in human trafficking for sex, and include clients among the offenders.
Till now, "clients" have not come under the purview of the act in what has been seen by many as an infirmity, in the law. Yet, there are vociferous protests from sex workers and NGOs. They feel the new amendments would drive the work of sex professionals underground and criminalize clients.
The proposed amendments, as recommended by Parliament's standing committee, also provides for stricter punishment. Now, "any person who keeps or manages a brothel" will be liable for rigorous imprisonment of two years. This could extend to three years and a fine, which may extend to Rs 10,000 for a first conviction.
There is more. This punishment may increase to seven years and a fine of Rs 2 lakh. For a person caught trafficking, the punishment can extend up to life imprisonment.
The Bill designed to amend the ITPA also makes provision for setting up a central authority that will work towards the combating and prevention of trafficking.
NGOs and sex workers' associations, who have for long demanded that commercial sex be legalized, are responding with widespread protests.
Amongst the objections that they have to the changes are that they seek to penalize clients but in effect drive sex workers underground, criminalize consensual adult sex work and undermine HIV prevention interventions among sex workers and the general population.
The ITPA had been tabled in Parliament last year. It was then referred to a standing committee, whose recommendations were incorporated by the Ministry of Women and Child Development before the proposed legislation was made public.