* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Her comments on the legalisation of prostitution have alarmed some groups working against the trafficking of children and women
The new head of India's National Commission for Women (NCW) has sparked debate by comments supporting the legalisation of prostitution in the country, with some anti-trafficking groups claiming it would lead to further exploitation of women.
Lalitha Kumaramangalam, who was appointed as the NCW's chairperson in September, said decriminalising prostitution would help protect sex workers from violence and result in better health care for them.
"The legalisation of prostitution, what it will actually lead to, is easier control over the situation in which paid sex takes place," Kumaramangalam told the Indian channel NewsX https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kq3wxd-5mvE last week.
"Thereby you could do a lot more with regard to the plight of the women who are in sex work and also the health aspect of sex work and the violence which is often associated with commercial sex work."
The NCW advises government on policy regarding the rights of women in India and aims to provide a voice for their issues and concerns which range from sexual exploitation to employment.
The body has no authority to decriminalise sex work - a bill must be drafted, approved by the cabinet and then presented before parliament which would decide on whether to pass it. An official at the women's ministry said there were no plans to consider changing the laws regarding prostitution.
Groups which fight for the rights of sex workers, who have taken up sex work out of choice, say it is impossible to end the trade.
Decriminalising prostitution would regulate the sector, ensure better protection for those trafficked into the industry, and bring key freedoms and rights for sex workers.
Most importantly, they say, legalising prostitution would encourage society to respect sex workers as human beings and afford them equal dignity.
MORE OR LESS EXPLOITATION?
But Kumaramangalam's statement has alarmed some groups working against the trafficking of children and women in India who say that prostitution is an organised crime and a violation of fundamental human rights.
"Organised prostitution creates a demand for young girls for the brothels which is met by trafficking of minor girls from across the country. Trafficking and sexual slavery is worst form of human rights violation," said the Delhi-based charity Shakti Vahini, which has helped rescue thousands of children and women from traffickers.
"The statement of the National Commission for Women's chairperson for legalising prostitution is deplorable. No women joins this inhuman trade out of choice," it said in a statement.
Some 30 million people are enslaved worldwide, trafficked into brothels, forced into manual labour, victims of debt bondage or even born into servitude, a global index on modern slavery showed in October last year.
Almost half are in India, where slavery ranges from bonded labour in quarries and brick kilns to commercial sex exploitation, said the Australia-based Walk Freedom Foundation.
India sees thousands of young girls being trafficked, including many from Nepal and Bangladesh, forced into bonded sex work unable to escape and return home for years, if at all.
Rural girls from poor families, lured by traffickers with promises of jobs as maids in the cities, end up locked in unhygienic rooms in guesthouses, forced to have sex with many men without any sexual protection.
Anti-trafficking groups say sex workers are victims and that they should not be punished by the law and treated as criminals, but rehabilitated and given other options of work.
But they also believe that prostitution should be eradicated and that by punishing the clients, traffickers and brothel owners you will stamp out demand.
"No women joins this inhuman trade out of choice," said Shakti Vahini. "More then 95 percent of the women have been trafficked and forced into the sex trade."
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.