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Laws Aimed At Criminalizing Sex Trade Hindering HIV/AIDS Response In India

Writing in the Huffington Post’s “World” blog, journalist Michelle Chen examines efforts to combat HIV/AIDS among sex workers in India, highlighting “various laws aimed at criminalizing the sex trade, supposedly to protect women from exploitation,” which she says reflect “a deeper culture of oppression that sex workers face around the world at all levels of society, not just in the streets but in the social institutions that are supposed to protect them.” She notes, “India has not outlawed sex work itself, but sex workers face various restrictions on related activities such as soliciting in public or pimping,” and highlights a “directive embedded in PEPFAR, the White House’s keystone global HIV/AIDS program, [that] has for years explicitly barred U.S. support for any organization that aids sex workers.”

“Fortunately, the Supreme Court recently dealt a potentially lethal blow to the so-called ‘anti-prostitution loyalty oath’ by ruling that the mandatory pledge violates the free speech rights of U.S. organizations,” she writes, adding, “But there’s a catch: The court’s ruling applies only to U.S.-based groups.” She notes, “When aid comes with political strings attached, poor governments are pressured to mirror Washington’s culture wars,” adding, “Across the Global South, the politics of PEPFAR ironically feeds into the same structural barriers that put sex workers at risk of AIDS and other social threats.” She states, “In India’s heated politics of sex, violence and public health, the treatment of sex workers represents deep blind spots in even the best-intentioned social policies” (7/21).