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By Kanika Rangray

Prostitution has been a highly controversial topic with its status and legality varying from country to country. Some groups call for the decriminalisation of prostitution; some say it is a social evil which needs to be eliminated from the society.



Though the oldest profession in the world, every society has a mixed response to prostitution since ancient times. As a matter of fact, actual protests against it started only at the end of the 14th century!

For some, prostitution is labour like any other; whereas, another section terms it as a violation of human rights. For several others, it is an insult to a woman’s dignity; the list of reactions is endless.

But no matter what the reactions and the laws about prostitution are in a country, a staggering amount of money goes into this trade. The most recent reports say that around $186 billion is spent on prostitution worldwide, each year.

The prostitution revenue of a country can go as high as $73 billion!



These are statistics of the countries which rank top five in the prostitution revenue index. Out of these, prostitution is a legal industry only in Germany. The next five countries in the top 10 are South Korea ($12 billion), India ($8.4 billion), Thailand ($6.4 billion), Philippines ($6 billion), and Turkey ($4 billion). Apart from Germany, Netherlands is another country where prostitution is a legal. It ranks 17th with a revenue of $800 million.

There are approximately 13,828,700 prostitutes in the world; the highest number of prostitutes live in China – 5 million. India has the second largest number of prostitutes at 3 million, followed by United States, Philippines and Mexico.

The hierarchy of the money flow


Does the money earned by a sex-worker belong solely to him/her?

A source, who chose to remain anonymous, and did a research on sex-workers in a prominent red light area in Delhi, said: “The money flow is hierarchical. There are majorly three parties involved—the sex-worker, the brothel owner, and the pimp. Around 20 per cent of the money earned goes to the pimps. The brothel owner gets 30 per cent as he/she provides accommodation, and the rest remains with the sex-worker for his/her use.”

Ms Bharti Dey, secretary of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, an organisation in Bengal which works for the rights of sex-workers, told NewsGram: “The earlier hierarchy of the distribution of money earned by sex-workers, where the majority of it went to the brothel owners, no longer exists. Now, around 20 per cent goes to the brothel and the rest is the sex worker’s right. But, if it is a contract arrangement then the money is divided 50-50.”

The society’s stand about prostitution

Talking about the rights of sex-workers, Dey said, “We demand that the government legalise prostitution and treat the sex-workers as any other citizen in the country, such as giving them voter ID-cards, ration cards and such. Also, the government should provide them with pension at retirement as they would to any other government employee.”


When asked about the society’s stand, she replied: “There is a long way to go for the society to change the negative perception they have of ‘prostitutes’ and it won’t happen immediately even if the government termed it as a professional occupation. But at least they will have equal status in the eyes of the law if prostitution is legalised.”

However, an NGO in Delhi, who chose to remain anonymous, was of the opposite opinion and told NewsGram that “India is not ready for legalising prostitution.” In its opinion, it is first required that rules and regulation regarding prostitution and trafficking be made clearer; as of now they are very vague. “Legalising prostitution in such a scenario will be dangerous to the well-being of the sex-worker. It will open gates to more trafficking and violence. The society is not yet ready.”

Augustine C. Kaunds, director of Society for People’s Action Development, a NGO that works with the commercial sex workers in Bangalore, told NewsGram: “In India nobody wants to openly sit with a sex worker. Selling their bodies for money is taboo in the society. Sex industry is not open in India—it is all hidden.”

He added, “We need to protect and consider the women who are below poverty line, face domestic violence and are forced into prostitution, rather than those elite women who prostitute in five-star hotels.”

Some questions remain unanswered: In countries where illegality of prostitution is clear, why are there doubts regarding legality and illegality of the revenue it generates?

The point of the entire socio-economic status of prostitutes goes hand in hand with their status in the society. What is needed is a middle path where the society accepts if not the prostitute, then at least prostitution as a profession.


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