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NHRC Modifies Its Advisory On Sex Workers: Report

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The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recently modified its ‘Advisory on Rights of Women in the context of COVID-19 Pandemic’. The advisory, originally issued to the concerned ministries of the Government of India and all states/union territories on October 7, 2020, received criticism for its categorisation of sex workers as “registered”, “informal workers”, and “migrant sex workers.” Consequently, the NHRC has now modified the parts related to sex workers in the advisory.

NHRC Modifies Its Advisory On Sex Workers

As per a press release issued by the commission, the original advisory was reconsidered based on the feedback received from concerned stakeholders. The release also mentioned that the “core objective of the NHRC’s advisory qua sex workers is to ensure the protection of their right to life and livelihood with dignity from the adverse impact of COVID-19 Pandemic and the resultant lockdown.”

Following the extant provisions under the law, the NHRC has now done away with its previous terminology for sex workers. The part of the advisory pertaining to the registration of sex workers as informal workers to receive worker benefits has now been modified to “sex workers, on humanitarian grounds, may be provided the benefits that informal workers are entitled to during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Similarly, the part mentioning “migrant sex workers” has been changed to “sex workers, who were forced to undertake reverse migration, may be provided the benefits meant for migrants for their survival.”

Also Read: How Sex Workers In Delhi’s Red Light Area Are Braving More Than Just A Pandemic

What You Should Know: 

  • The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recently modified its ‘Advisory on Rights of Women in the context of COVID-19 Pandemic’.
  • The original advisory received criticism for its categorisation of sex workers as “registered”, “informal workers”, and “migrant sex workers.” 
  • Consequently, the NHRC has now done away with these terms and highlighted the provision of benefits to sex workers on “humanitarian grounds.”
  • The original advisory had been appreciated by some stakeholders and criticised by others. 

Controversy Over NHRC Advisory

The commission had constituted a ‘Committee of Experts on Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Human Rights and Future Response’. The committee included representatives from civil society organisations, concerned union ministries/departments, and independent domain experts. These representatives assessed the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable sections of society, like women, and their rights. The original advisory was finalised based on the committee’s suggestions.

Also Read: Sex workers hit by coronavirus lockdown, face hunger and work issues

As reported by The Indian Express, social activist Sunitha Krishnan, founder of Prajwala – an organisation based in Hyderabad with a mission to end sex slavery – was one of the most notable critics of the advisory. In her plea to the NHRC, Krishnan wrote, “It is an absolute failure on our part to not provide viable options to women to engage in productive work,” she wrote. “Our law — which is the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act — lays down that the institution of prostitution is illegal. Sex is either a consensual engagement between two adults or it is rape. Commercial sex, if engaged through any institutional process is illegal and liable for prosecution.” However, nearly 10,000 sex workers and more than 900 feminists and activists protested against her letter and wrote to the NHRC regarding the same. They said, “No organisation or individual can arrogate to themselves the authority to decide their (sex workers’) destinies.”

Tarini Gandhiok is an intern with SheThePeople.TV