Historically, sex work has been stigmatized and discriminated among most societies. Activists have been advocating for the decriminalization of sex work – the removal of the criminal law and the implementation of a rights-based approach to aspects of sex work claiming that it will make the environment for sex workers safer and also reduce levels of violence and exploitation. In this episode of the podcast 'Sexploration', titled ' Decriminalization of sex work, guest Simran Serchan, a transgender activist of the LGBTIQ community who is a National Program Coordinator at the Federation of Sexual and Gender Minorities-Nepal discusses how would society be if sex work is decriminalized.
"Sex work is real work like any other profession and it should be respected", said Simran Serchan. Sherchan added that there should be certain rules, strict laws, and clauses that would be imposed along with the decriminalization of sex work for safer practice, to defy anything immoral or wrong from happening. Sherchan said, "Everything has boundaries. So, in terms of decriminalizing sex work as well, one should not cross boundaries if freedom is given. If the sex work is dignified with incompressive manner, then the society will remain peaceful." Sex work should also be recognized like other professions. By decriminalization of sex work, criticism and boycott against sex workers can be minimized said Sherchan.
In Nepal, sex work is criminalized and is punishable when found in action. The legal framework that criminalizes sex work has been shown to greatly increase sex workers’ vulnerability to violence and illness and affect their livelihood. A lot of women who are involved in sex work do it out of compulsion and to be able to afford basic needs. Sherchan said, "Some have done it due to compulsion due to poverty, uneducation, unemployment. In many cases, they get involved because family and society do not accept them after disclosing their gender identity. They face bullying, and harassment, so to earn their living they are compelled to do so." Sherchan added that if a woman is willingly selling sexual favors for money with her consent and without any coercion, then they should be able to do so."
The criminalization of sex work has endangered the basic human right of many sex workers. They have to suffer from physical, mental and financial violence along with the exploitation of labor. Not only that, but it also becomes a barrier in the protection for sex workers as them being involved in sex work cannot acquire protection from police because of the fear of getting arrested. Sherchan said, "If a sex worker faces any sort of violence, there is no place to file a complaint. If they do so, the police personnel imprisons the sex worker who has been the victim counterly in the name of the profession they are involved in." Moreover, sex worker face problem even during health checkups. By raising concerns on decriminalizing sex work, the government can ensure and secure human rights and prevent sex workers from suffering from violations and allegations. Their profession gets recognized, and they can economically support their family with no discrimination, and no fear of breaking relationships.
The arguments from the two sides in support of or against the decriminalization of sex work in Nepal have valid reasoning behind them. Because of those strong arguments, it is extremely difficult to determine whether or not sex work should be legalized in Nepal. Many also assume that it deteriorates the cultural values of society while some say it helps in controlling sex trafficking, and sex rackets. Some say sex will be open and people will be vulgar if sex work is decriminalized while others say, decriminalization is necessary to provide sex workers with human rights so they can communicate freely. Activist Sherchan said," if any sex worker gives birth to a child, the child is facing various problems in the present such as getting citizenship in the name of the mother. As the father is not recognized. Similarly, they are unable to open bank accounts due to the unavailability of citizenship certificates. They are facing violence from partners."
It is necessary to challenge stereotypes about sex workers and sex worker clients and generate positive attitudes towards sex work. Sherchan said that there is a possibility of sex work being decriminalized in Nepal in the future. But there should be wider consultancy about both the pros and cons as well as the outcome of decriminalizing sex work. Sherchan stated that there should be an inclusive society where all groups are put in mainstream society. The minority should also be involved with legal and social respect. Sex work should be considered respectful work and discussions should be made with stakeholders regarding the issue.
Overall, we can say that decriminalization creates safer working environments, helps protect workers' rights, maintain their livelihood without fear of arrest, improves their access to health services/care, and reduces their vulnerability to violence, exploitation, stigma, and discrimination as well as provides true equality and recognition.