19 July, 2024


Why Prostitution Should Be Legalised In Sri Lanka 

By Lasantha Pethiyagoda

Lasantha Pethiyagoda

Lasantha Pethiyagoda

There are many reasons which can be considered valid as to why adults do sex work, whether it is their main livelihood in the absence of more “respectable” means, a temporary solution to survive a difficult period, or an opportunity to supplement other income, having aesthetic qualities that are in demand. Some people find that sex work offers better and quicker income and more flexible working conditions.

I will outline some aspects that make the case for legalisation stronger, given that there is much suffering all round due to a lack of it, and indignant howls of protest by duplicitous hypocrites.

There is widespread human trafficking from remote rural areas that invariably punishes victims more than perpetrators. Trafficking is an egregious human rights violation involving coercion of individuals for sexual exploitation or forced labour. If legalised, sex workers can be natural allies in the fight against trafficking, and may be well placed to refer trafficking victims (usually children, widows or adolescents) to appropriate services.

When freed from the threat of criminal penalties, sex workers can organize and collaborate with law enforcement agencies, departments of probation and child care and women’s affairs. Despite this, laws prohibiting the purchase of sexual services are often quite ironically promoted as a successful means to combat human trafficking to cosmopolitan hubs. On the contrary, countries which legalise it have less related crime.

sexworkerLegalising sex work recognizes the right of people to privacy and freedom from undue state control over sex and sexual expression when it poses no threat to society. The different treatment of sex work from other types of work is an example of governments’ long history of exerting control over bodily autonomy, self-determination of individuals and sexuality.

Proper recognition must be afforded to both sexes where respect for gender equality and sexual rights are asserted. Laws against sex work intrude into private sexual behaviours and constitute a form of state control over the bodies of women and gay, lesbian and trans-gender persons who make up a significant segment of sex workers.

Criminalising sexuality is like state controls over reproductive rights and sexual acts between consenting adults. Criminal laws prohibiting sex work attempt to legislate morality with scant regard for bodily autonomy.

Health benefits for the general population will outweigh costs as it reduces the risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infections. Legalisation of sex work could avert a significant percentage of new HIV infections among female sex workers and those mostly exposed to infection. Medical journals have verified conclusions that decriminalization of sex work had the single greatest potential to reduce HIV infections in female sex worker communities in the absence of expensive anti-retroviral treatment.

Prostitutes are then empowered to insist on condom use by clients, and are better able to access testing and treatment for HIV and sexually transmitted infections such as Herpes or Syphilis. Visible condoms and openly negotiating condom use put sex workers at greater risk of arrest, torture or rape.

Legalisation promotes safer working conditions for sex workers by enabling them to organize as groups. Collectively, sex workers can address risk factors in their workplaces and insist upon improved conditions. It challenges the consequences of having a criminal record and abuse by law-enforcement officers. Harsh and biased application of criminal law ensures that a large proportion of sex workers will have criminal records.

Criminal records are often a source of social stigma, and can drastically limit one’s career and social future. They face great difficulty finding non-sex-work employment and make it next to impossible to change careers or win custody of children.

An important cornerstone of contemporary human rights is that all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Sex workers in many parts of the world have organized to fight for human rights that cannot be fully realized as long as criminal laws threaten sex workers’ access to justice, health, and social services and undermine their right to labour and workplace protections.

Sex work cannot be inherently violent. The criminalization of it puts both workers and customers at greatest risk. The need to avoid arrest of both sex workers and their clients means that street-based sex workers must often move to more isolated areas that are less visible to law enforcement, where violence is more prevalent.

These factors, plus real or perceived impunity for perpetrators of violence against sex workers, place sex workers at heightened risk. For example, reported rapes and assaults are very much understated. Decriminalization of sex work challenges police abuse and violence. Where sex work is criminalized, police wield unfettered power over sex workers.

Police threaten sex workers with arrest, public humiliation, and extortion. A high proportion of sex workers have reported suffering sexual assault by police, rape while in custody, often without condoms and often as a pre-condition for release on bail. In these instances police abuse sex workers with impunity, in part because sex workers fear arrest or further abuse for reporting these crimes.

Social stigmas and double standards need to be removed, so that the powerful policy-makers’ and high officials’ hypocrisy is exposed if not discouraged with public shaming on mass media, while the desperate individuals who work in the sex industry gain respect and acceptance. That way, a significant portion of society will stop leading double lives and all of society will benefit both directly and indirectly.

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Latest comments

  • 7

    OK, let us take a vote. To all those that favor legalizing brothel, hands up those who would like to have a legalized brothel next to their home?
    No? Why not, you are happy to legalize it and so spring clean the concept of prostitution?

    • 15


      “To all those that favor legalizing brothel, hands up those who would like to have a legalized brothel next to their home?”

      I wouldn’t mind as long as they don’t make funny noises.

      Here is a story you might want to read and learn from it:

      The Prostitute And The Monk – Myths And Legend

      A story from Indian mythology.

      Long long ago, on the bank of a river, there lived a monk. Right across the street from him, lived a prostitute. The monk always hated the fact that he had to live next door to the prostitute. He took every opportunity to rebuke her about her profession. He would take every opportunity to show her what a horrible person she was. In his …mind, he always compared himself with her and took big pride in the fact that he was accruing so much good Karma compared to her.

      The prostitute was a humble girl. She always respected the monk. She tried not to talk back when he was yelling at her. She felt bad about the choice of profession she made, but was not in a position to get out of it. She would always try to listen when the monk prayed, hoping that listening God’s name would help her wash off some of her sins.

      The monk kept on his routine of massaging his own ego by comparing himself to the prostitute. Eventually he got so obsessed that he kept a jar with him and for every one person who visited prostitute, he dropped a pebble in the jar.

      The prostitute kept her own routine. She was also watching what the monk was doing. She had a jar too. And every time the monk prayed, she put a pebble in the jar.

      One day there was a big flood on the river. Both the monk and the prostitute were washed away and were dead. Upon their death, their souls stood in front of God of death.

      To everyone’s surprise, the God of death ordered the prostitute to go to heaven and the monk to go to hell. The monk could not believe this. “What an injustice. You can still find a jar in my house. I have kept count of how many times this prostitute sinned. How can she go to the heaven? There must be some mistake.”

      The prostitute also added humbly “I think the monk is right. I don’t deserve to go the heaven. But he does. I have a jar where I kept count of the number of times I heard his prayer. He prayed a lot. So I think he should go to heaven and I should go to hell.”

      The God of death smiled and said “The judgement is correct. It does not matter what word is in your mouth. It matters only what is in your heart. The monk’s heart was filled with prostitute’s sins while he was saying his prayers. While the prostitute’s heart was filled with love of God while engaged in lifestyle of sins. The heart that has love of God goes to heaven and the heart that judges others and is filled with jealousy goes to hell.”

    • 9

      There are hard times ahead for all of us Sri Lankans, those who have willies, and those who don’t: I mean the Economy of Sri Lanka is said (by those who know about these things – I just don’t understand anything apart from my mother’s simple advice, “Cut your coat according to your cloth”.) by those who understand, to be on the verge of collapse. Yes, “thrishu”, it’s you I’m answering!

      We will soon have to pay for the sins of the Rajapaksas. Inflation and devaluation seem inevitable. Our country just come go on like this! Then, those who still have ill-gotten lucre will REALLY start exploiting the innocent and the weak. Yes, the prostitutes are the comparatively innocent:


      I hope the religious nuts (sad fact, thrishu, you are one of them) would read this carefully:


      Don’t imagine that you will ever find a place in this world where you can live immune from the EFFECTS of social evil. We have to tackle the the EVILS, not the SYMPTOMS. Let us recognise that we are all human beings who have sex drives; let us treat “sex workers” as human beings – use the word prostitute (Sinhalese: “ganikawa” – not “vexi”, please) if you want to. I’m not in to the use of euphemisms. Read about this wonderful lady:


      Have your referendum (“vote”), but, please, you self-righteous prigs, don’t try to win it using methods worse than those of the “innocent women” whom you choose to exploit. Actually, I’ve already had my say – yesterday:


      And please remember that I started this response by calling upon you to remember where we live: in a country just recovering from the traumas of a war fought by TWO UNjust groups, and needing to now pay the economics price. When Jarapaksa presented his obviously “election preparing budget” a month earlier than usual – i.e. in October 2014, I predicted that by January 2016, the US Dollar will need 200 of our rupees to buy. The real price of “democratic elections” is not the money that Mahinda Deshapriya’s Department spent, but what was ancillaries demanded by the need to elect members of Paliament: I mean the salary and pension increases, the slashing of petroleum prices, the need for gimmicks like storing paddy in the air-conditioned comfort of Mattala Airport (which shouldn’t have been built in the first place!). And think of the “Transportation Mess” – wonderful carpeted roads (with huge commissions paid) choked with such an amazing number of new cars with just the selfish driver at the wheel, and no passengers.

      Remember also, that despite all the quotes that come from me, I am a poor villager, living amidst Sinhalese peasants and Tamil plantation workers. No, “thrishu”, your efforts to remove “brothels” from your neighbourhood, if you do it in your crude way, will lead to even greater evils visiting us.

    • 3

      Thrishu, I’m surprised that you are confusing two separate issues. One is whether prostitution should be legalised or not. The matter of where legalised brothels are to be situated is a completely different matter.

  • 3

    The country itself has been and is been sold as a prostitute by the successive Govt of the day

  • 5

    The people most vociferous in not wanting prostitution legalised are the pimps and people traffickers who make a fortune at the expense of innocent women, abducted and imprisoned by these vile men. There’s a video on Youtube of women held against their will in Philippines for the sole purpose of servicing men.

  • 0

    “Why Prostitution Should Be Legalised In Sri Lanka”

    then you can send your erection in the right direction for the much needed correction of the projection after the ejection but must use protection.

  • 2

    Victor Hugo, on Slavery and Prostitution. ‘Les Miserables’.

    ” What is the story of Fantine about? it is about society buying a slave. From whom? From misery. From hunger, from cold, from loneliness,
    from desertion, from privation. Melancholy barter. A soul for a piece of bread. Misery makes the offer. Society accepts.

    The holy law of Jesus Christ governs our civilization, but does not yet
    permeate it.They say that slavery has disappeared from European civilization. That is incorrect. It still exists, but now, it weighs only on women, and it is called Prostitution.

    It weighs on women, that is to say, on grace,frailty, beauty, motherhood. This is not the least among man’s shames.

    At this stage in the mournful drama, Fantine has nothing left of what she had formerly been.She has turned to marble in becoming corrupted.
    Whoever touches her feels a chill. She goes her way, she endures you, she ignores you; she is the incarnation of dishonor and severity.
    Life and the social order have spoken their last word to her.
    All that can happen to her has happened.She has endured all, borne all, experienced all, suffered all, lost all, wept for all.”

  • 0

    These kind of articles discriminate our mothers of our historical country. We will not allow western brain washed men to this immoral act. We fight against it by any mean

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