Press statement

UNAIDS welcomes India’s Supreme Court order that the constitutional right of sex workers to life, liberty and dignity must be respected

GENEVA, 17 June 2022—UNAIDS applauds the decision by the Supreme Court to issue directions on protecting the wellbeing and fundamental rights of sex workers under the Indian constitution, including the right to life and liberty with respect for an individual’s dignity. 

“This historic order will save lives and help India advance towards the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030,” said David Bridger, UNAIDS Country Director for India. “The evidence is clear— protecting the safety and human rights of marginalised people expands access to HIV services, accelerating progress in the response to HIV by increasing the number of people on treatment and reducing new infections.” 

In its ruling in Budhadev Karmaskar versus the State of West Bengal, Criminal Appeal No. 135 of 2010, the Supreme Court has issued directions that the police and other relevant authorities should receive appropriate training to ensure that they are aware of sex workers’ rights and ensure they are upheld. The ruling also calls for sex workers who experience sexual violence to have full access to protection and support services, ending practices that undermine access to existing survivor-friendly procedures and protocols available to the general population. The directions confirm that the possession of condoms should not be treated as a criminal matter. They also direct the authorities to issue Aadhar cards, key for accessing poverty alleviation support, to sex workers who are unable to provide proof of residence; and require the development of media guidelines to protect the privacy and confidentiality of sex workers, and to ensure sex workers are informed about their legal rights, including the right to justice.

“We hope that all the recommendations made by the Supreme Court will be followed by all, especially the police and the press, as reflected in the ruling,” said Bharati Dey, Ex-Secretary, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, and Bishakha Laskar, President of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee. “We hope that the recommendations will diminish stigma and discrimination experienced by sex workers.”  

Sex workers, along with other marginalized communities, often find it difficult to access essential services, such as health, because of criminalization, stigma and discrimination. This ruling further underlines how evidence-informed, people-centred approaches are key to widening access to HIV treatment, prevention and care services, and to ending the AIDS pandemic for everyone.  

The Supreme Court of India has played a significant role in protecting and upholding the rights of marginalized communities over the past decade, granting hijras and other transgender people the right to recognition as a third gender, outlawing HIV-related discrimination, and striking down the provision in the Penal Code that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual conduct. 


Michael Hollingdale
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