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Prostitution and Public Health

Prostitution and Public Health:
Various Forms of Regulating Methods – An Analysis of Current

Legal Responses to Prostitution in Nepal
Purna Shrestha
Prostitution, which now a days is also termed as commercial sex work,1 is an ancient and widespread phenomenon. Even though it is never welcomed by any society, women, men and transgenders sell sex all over the world and have done so forever.2 Every society and their regulatory mechanism i.e. State has its own way of addressing prostitution. This paper will first explore on the major forms of prevailing regulating methods for controlling the impact of prostitution and will briefly discuss their appropriateness and weaknesses in addressing the real problem. The paper will then briefly highlight the existing regulatory framework on prostitution in Nepal and will discuss the existing practices in this regard. The paper argues that the current regulatory framework of Nepal seems ideal from the theoretical point of view, but the implementation of the law as against the idealistic concept is problematic and is fueling human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic.

Prostitution is a means of survival for sex workers in Nepal. As sex workers, prostitutes are ostracized by society, abused by the police and often their clients, and are deprived of many essential services because of their occupation. Even though there is no specific laws that penalize voluntary sex work in Nepal and the Supreme Court of Nepal has interpreted sex work as a profession, in the absence of special protection to sex workers, law dealing with public order and obscenity is being misused by police time and again to arrest, harass and prosecute sex workers in Nepal. This conflicting approaches to sex work under laws and practice are based and justified on the moral grounds. The impressive policy framework developed for educating sex workers, building their capacity, and for reducing HIV prevalence among them and their clients are not adequately implemented. Thus, even if Nepal has ideal legal and policy frameworks in regard to prostitution, in the absence of its adequate and effective implementation and due to the misuse of other prevailing laws by the law enforcement agencies, the situation of sex workers and their work places are deteriorating day-by-day. Numbers of sex workers as well as the HIV infections among and via them are rising rapidly, whereas adequate measures are yet to be implemented by the public health agencies as well as by the other regulatory mechanisms of the State to address their vulnerability. Combating HIV/AIDS certainly demands interventions beyond controlling sex work, but it should not and cannot be ignored. The problem not only demands educating and 22 empowering sex workers about their rights and duties to protect themselves and thereby to public from deadly HIV infections, but also requires effective interventions to educate community at large, including police, about the rights of sex workers. Special institutional framework is required to address discrimination and violence against this community. Sex workers should be provided with viable alternatives and interventions are required to eliminate all kinds of social, cultural and legal barriers that sex workers faced in accessing appropriate information and public utility, including health care facilities.