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Woman in prostitution is a victim too, can’t be charged with trafficking: Madhya Pradesh HC

The order was issued by the high court while hearing a petition filed by a woman who was arrested for prostitution in June 2017 and then charged with trafficking.

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New Delhi: The Madhya Pradesh High Court has ruled that a woman involved in prostitution is also a victim of human trafficking and hence cannot be charged for the offence of trafficking under Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code.

The order was issued by Justice Rajendra Kumar Srivastava on 20 May while hearing a petition filed by a woman who was first arrested for being involved in prostitution during a raid at a hotel in June 2017.

She was subsequently charged under Section 370 of the IPC, which defines human trafficking as an act of exploiting people by recruiting, harbouring or transferring them using threat, force, abduction, fraud, deception or inducement.

The section also says that exploitation may include any act of physical and sexual abuse, slavery or forced removal of organs.

A trial court had framed charges against her under IPC Section 370 in December 2018. The woman challenged it last year by arguing that it was her who was getting exploited, not the other way around.

The high court, last month, agreed with the woman’s contention and said the petitioner should be considered as the person being exploited under Section 370 of the IPC.

“Admittedly, accused/petitioner is a lady and she cannot be considered to be exploiting herself, so as to bring her within the ambit of Section 370. In fact, she is the person who would be considered as being exploited under Section 370 of IPC,” the court observed.

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Court refers to Justice Verma Committee

The bench took note of a 2017 Gujarat High Court judgment, which had referred to a clarification issued by the Justice Verma Committee that was formed days after the 2012 December gang rape to review criminal law related to sexual assault.

The Justice Verma committee had said: “…legislative framework that criminalises prostitution as exploitation, drives the practice underground and renders the already vulnerable sex worker more vulnerable to violence, exposure to HIV and deepens the lack of legal remedy to redress violence”.

Taking note of this, the Madhya Pradesh High Court allowed the woman’s petition and set aside the order charging her under section 370.

“In view of above, it is apparent that the charge under Section 370 of IPC has been erroneously framed against the accused/petitioner since she is herself an exploited person as per Section 370 of IPC,” it ruled.

The court, however, left it open for the trial court to consider whether the petitioner needed to be charged under the Immoral Trafficking Act, 1956.

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