In the middle of January this year (13th to be exact), this newspaper carried an anchor news item on the need to legalise prostitution in this country. As the report said, prostitution is by far the world’s oldest profession but a profession that has been looked down upon by different societies through the ages. The social stigma tagged to prostitution is due to the concept of morality, which has remained virtually unchanged through history mainly because of the rigid concepts of rights and wrongs of different religions.
Yet recall the huge controversy that surrounds Mary Magdalene, who some describe as a prostitute, and others as a saint, one of Jesus’ most celebrated disciples. And many female prostitutes have inspired saints, sages, ordinary people and thieves and robbers alike encompassing almost all religions of the world. And yet prostitutes do not, even in the 21st century, enjoy the same status as do ordinary people. And this is true even in countries that have legalised prostitution.
Legalising prostitution as a profession is bound to be met with outrage and stiff opposition from all quarters - religious, social and political groups. A sampling of 100 countries were taken by a western institution, and it was found that prostitution was legal in 50 per cent of the countries, illegal in 40 per cent and limited legality in 10 per cent.
But in terms of population, prostitution is illegal in countries that have a combined population of over 3.2 billion people (60 per cent), has limited legality in countries that have a combined population of 700 million and it is legal only in countries that have a combined population of 1.45 billion people.
The large percent of illegality in countries with a total population of 3.2 billion was due mainly because prostitution is illegal in two countries with the world’s largest population, China and India. In fact, prostitution, brothel ownership and pimping are all illegal in India (population 1.2 billion) and China (population 1.35 billion). All three are also illegal in Thailand which has a population of over 68 million.
And as everyone knows, these countries might perhaps have the largest number of prostitutes, and prostitution is a thriving business in these countries. In contrast, Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country population-wise, has legalised prostitution, brothel ownership as well as pimping.
And prostitution does not merely cover females but also males. There are - and will always be - male prostitutes. It is true that the number of male prostitutes is negligible, but as times change so do statistics. It was generally believed that only men cheated on their wives and committed adultery. But a new study in the United States has found that cheating on spouses has little to do with gender but reflects the social and economic status of a person.
According to the report, "Women in powerful positions are just as likely as men to cheat on their spouses." The popular notion that men are more likely than women to cheat is simply due to the fact that men occupy more positions of power than women, the report said.
"As more and more women are in greater positions of power and are considered equal to men, then familiar assumptions about their behaviour may also change. This may lead to increased negative behaviours among women that in the past have been more common among men," the report added.
Hence, any differentiation between male and female prostitutes in the legal sphere would not make sense as women, too, can, if they so want, get the services of a male prostitute even as today’s prevalent practice of mostly males acquiring the services of female prostitutes. In this era of gender equality, it is only fitting that attention should be paid by our lawmakers and constitution framers about ensuring gender equality if and when such times come to legalise prostitution in this country.
With influential Nepalese women leaders coming out openly against legalising prostitution in this country, prospects for any legislation to legalise the world’s oldest profession in this country anytime soon looks bleak. On top of these reservations by women leaders, there are too many social taboos and worn out concepts associated with prostitution in this country as well as in many other countries to expect legal status for this profession.
Yet in this age when human and individual rights are given the pride of place in democratic dispensations, taking away the right of an individual to sell his or her body temporarily for sexual purposes may not be the best of things to do. Since the profession is illegal, there are many, including the law enforcers, who take advantage of the hapless and helpless women who indulge in prostitution in a clandestine manner. They have to undergo a lot of physical and mental hardship because they are indulging in a profession that is illegal.
Much - but not all - of such terrifying hardships can be overcome through proper legislation on the profession. Legalising the profession means proper care for those engaged in the profession and could go a long way in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, legalising the profession in this country, would be the correct thing to do if our leaders - from far left to far right - are to be taken seriously when they say that we have to give up old ideas (and ideals) and take "forward" looking steps in all our everyday lives.
But then our leaders are better known for their sweet sounding talk rather than for actions that match their words. Yet the subject is a sensitive issue and needs to be thoroughly debated and discussed before any concrete steps are taken towards legalising it.