Minor Sex Workers – Impact of Covid-19 and Laws
Author: Vaishali Jain
III Year| Government Law College, Mumbai
Cambridge dictionary defines a “Prostitute” as a person who has sex with someone for money. However, the author believes that a minor branded as a child prostitute is a misnomer. This is because the term ‘Child Prostitute’ implies that consent was granted. However, the traffickers who control the minors force them into sexual slavery through violence, manipulation, and coercion. Moreover, minors do not even have the legal ability to consent to sexual acts. Above all, they are victims of crime and assault, not child prostitutes.
Survival Sex and Minors:
A human being’s basic needs include food, clothing, and shelter. Imagine having to sell your body for the sexual needs of others to meet your subsistence needs. Survival sex is a type of prostitution wherein people trade sex for food, clothing, or a place to sleep, out of desperation.
In other words, it is also a survival strategy used by homeless, runaway teenagers, or marginalized people . Certainly, traffickers and pimps seek out vulnerable people engaged in survival sex and exploit them through force or fraud.
Reasons and Impact:
Firstly, looking for love, a safe place to sleep, prior history of sexual abuse, lack of adult guidance are few factors that force teenagers to get stuck in the labyrinth of survival sex. Secondly, societal beliefs and ideas play an integral part in the continuation of survival sex where patriarchal ideologies contribute to a culture of silence. Consequently, young teenagers who are treated as sex objects are vulnerable to the manipulation of people who exploit them.
Repercussions of survival sex involve Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Stockholm syndrome and self-destructing behaviour like substance abuse, poor sexual health outcomes, such as unwanted pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).
Trafficking and Covid-19:
The UN Protocol defines trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat, use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for exploitation. Further, exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”.
Human trafficking is a violent form of physical and sexual exploitation where vulnerable people are abused for another’s economic gain. Consequently, trafficking, a grave violation of human rights exists worldwide and is greatly exacerbated during natural disasters and global pandemic. The Covid-19 outbreak is also exposing the most vulnerable to the risk of sexual exploitation.
Further, evidence showcases that the 2014 Ebola outbreak provided wide opportunities to exploiters to take advantage of impoverished people, especially girls and women, and push them to offer sex in exchange for food and vaccine.
The World Bank announced that the COVID-19 outbreak will be further pushing about 40-60 million people into extreme poverty. So, poverty is one of the prominent factors that makes people more vulnerable to the risk of exploitation and trafficking. Thus, people more exposed to exploitation may include the following examples – female domestic help, unaccompanied and separated children, homeless people, and migrants.
Collapse of the schooling system:
Children are easy prey to online sexual exploitation. Additionally, as they spend more time online without the constant oversight of their parents, the risk increases. Moreover, the closure of schools can lead to an increase in survival sex, child trafficking cases, or commercial sexual exploitation. As a result, children lose their subsidized school meals and pose a burden to their impecunious families.
The Legal Perspective:
The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1986:
The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, passed in 1986, is one of the vital instruments passed by the legislation to intercept and prevent trafficking in India. However, it has critically failed to curb exploitation by traffickers.
Section 2 of the Act fails to mention the definition of ‘trafficking’ or ‘trafficker’. Seducing or soliciting for prostitution is also punishable under Section 8 of the Act. Subsequently, it implies the exploitation of women and young girls rather than people who abet the trafficking process. Above all, the Act confers extensive powers to police officers. This consequently results in the repression of sex workers as they face routine arrests and harassment by them.
Most importantly, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2006 and The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection, and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 have failed to see the light of the day.
The Indian Penal Code:
Sec 370-A of India Penal Code (IPC) punishes a person engaged in sexual exploitation of a minor who has been trafficked. However, there is no mention of the prostitution of a minor (irrespective of the fact that force, fraud, or coercion was used) being an act of human trafficking.
Thus, no amendments and weak implementation of laws have made India a dangerous country for children due to human trafficking.
From this discussion, firstly, it is abundantly clear that minor commercial sex workers are trafficked into this world. Alternatively, they walk down this road due to the lack of other means of subsistence. In any case, it is safe to say that unlike prostitution, minor sex trafficking and exploitation is more complex. Due to this heightened vulnerability, the pandemic poses major threats to such minors. Further, the laws are highly inadequate to deal with this matter. Moreover, a law is as good as the people applying it. Unfortunately, the enforcement mechanisms to protect minors from such exploitation in times of exposed danger also seem bleak.
 Prostitute, CAMBRIDGE DICTIONARY, (21st February, 2021, 9:32 PM) URL: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/prostitute
 Stella Dawson, No Such Thing as A Child Prostitute, REUTERS (21st February, 2021, 9:37 PM) URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-trafficking-us-children-idUSKBN0KH26920150108
 Survival Sex, WIKIPEDIA, (21st February, 2021, 9:46 PM) URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survival_sex
 Homelessness, Survival Sex, and Human Trafficking, HUMAN TRAFFICKING HOTLINE, (21st February, 2021, 9:49 PM) URL: https://humantraffickinghotline.org/sites/default/files/Homelessness%2C%20Survival%20Sex%2C%20and%20Human%20Trafficking%20-%20Covenant%20House%20NY.pdf
 Children and Survival Sex: A social work agenda, RESEARCHGATE, (21st February, 2021, 9:56 PM) URL: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303390592_Children_and_survival_sex_A_social_work_agenda
 Children and Survival Sex: A social work agenda, RESEARCHGATE, (21st February, 2021, 9:57 PM) URL: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303390592_Children_and_survival_sex_A_social_work_agenda
 The Palermo Protocol Definition of Trafficking, KIRKLESS SAFEGUARDING CHILDREN, (21st February, 2021, 10:01 PM) URL: https://www.kirkleessafeguardingchildren.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/2016-01-27-The-Palermo-Protocol-Definition-of-Trafficking.pdf
 Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Mumbai, IJM INDIA, (21st February, 2021, 10:03 PM) URL: https://www.ijmindia.org/files/library/CSES%20Study%20Report%20Rev%20%28Final%20Prevalence%20Study%29.pdf
 COVID-19- GBV risks to adolescent girls and interventions to protect and empower them, UNICEF, (21st February, 2021, 10:16 PM) URL: https://www.unicef.org/media/68706/file/COVID-19-GBV-risks-to-adolescent-girls-and-interventions-toprotect-them-2020.pdf
 The impact of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) on global poverty: Why Sub-Saharan Africa might be the region hardest hit, WORLD BANK BLOGS, (22nd February, 2021, 9:35 AM) URL: https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/impact-covid-19-coronavirus-global-poverty-why-sub-saharan-africa-might-be-region-hardest
 An introduction to Human Trafficking: Vulnerability, Impact and Action, on page72, UNODC, (22nd February, 2021, 9:41 AM) URL: https://www.unodc.org/documents/human-trafficking/An_Introduction_to_Human_Trafficking_-_Background_Paper.pdf
 The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, INDIAN KANOON, (22nd February, 2021, 9:43 AM) URL: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/69064674/
 Section 2 in The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, INDIAN KANOON, (22nd February, 2021, 9:44 AM) URL: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/86578091/
 Section 8 in The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, INDIAN KANOON, (22nd February, 2021, 9:45 AM) URL: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/27208336/
 The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, LAWYERS COLLECTIVE, (22d February, 2021, 9:51 AM) URL: https://www.lawyerscollective.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Trafficking-Bill-89-of-2018.pdf
 IPC Section 370A, DEVGAN, (22nd February, 2021, 9:54 AM) URL: https://devgan.in/ipc/section/370A/
 Thomson Reuters Foundation, India Tops Rankings of Most Dangerous Countries for Trafficking of Women, FREEDOM UNITED, (22nd February, 2021, 9:56 AM) URL: https://www.freedomunited.org/news/india-tops-rankings-of-most-dangerous-countries-for-trafficking-of-women/
Editor: Adhya Sarna