New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday clarified that its earlier order saying there should be conducive working atmosphere for sex workers is not meant to encourage prostitution.

The Apex Court said the sex workers, however, have the right to dignity and their rehabilitation should be a priority.

A bench presided over by former Justice Markandey Katju, which had earlier talked about rehabilitation of sex workers had sought suggestions on formulating conditions enabling those who wished to "continue working as sex workers" to do so "with dignity."

Holding that the right to live with dignity was a constitutional right, the bench had constituted a panel comprising senior advocates and NGOs to look into the problems faced by sex workers and give suggestions to protect their fundamental rights.

Prostitution per se is not illegal but sex workers are often harassed in the absence of proper provisions relating to them. The panel had been asked to give suggestions on protecting the rights of sex workers who were not willing to leave the profession.

To ensure effective implementation of rehabilitation and other schemes, the court had directed the Centre and state governments to undertake surveys to ascertain how many sex workers wanted rehabilitation and submit reports to the panel constituted by it. It is estimated that there are over 3 million female commercial sex workers in India.

Though prostitution per se is not illegal, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 makes certain acts relating to prostitution an offence. The absence of proper provisions for regulating the profession, however, often paves the way for harassment of sex workers by the police.

(Mala Dikshit/JPN)

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