By Roli Srivastava
Andhra Pradesh will become the first state in India to target people who purchase sex in brothels as part of a crackdown on the sexual slavery of women and children, authorities said.
India has strict laws against human trafficking, sexual abuse and operating brothels. Pimps, brothel managers and traffickers are often prosecuted.
Yet, those who buy sex from people forced to work in brothels, including children, rarely face charges.
That needs to change, authorities say.
"People who purchase sex go scot free," said H Arun Kumar, the state government's commissioner for women's development and child welfare.
Last week, Andhra Pradesh appointed a panel of legal experts and campaigners to study anti-trafficking laws that could be applied to buyers of sex, and to make recommendations within 60 days.
Panel member Sunitha Krishnan pointed to a section of the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, which says charges may be applied to a "person who carries on prostitution and the person with whom such prostitution is carried on".
Campaigners say that anti-trafficking efforts will not work as long as police fail to target people who visit brothels where sexual slavery occurs.
"The buyers are the ones creating the demand," Krishnan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Girls will continue to be sold until buyers are criminalised."
Of an estimated 20 million sex workers in India, 16 million women and girls are victims of trafficking, according to a 2013 report called by four non-profit groups, including Dunya and the Omidyar Network.
Public calls to criminalise those paying to have sex with children have increased recently, and a politician from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party set up a change.org petition last month to seek tougher action.
(Reporting by Roli Srivastava; Editing by Jared Ferrie.)
(This story was first published on January 15, 2018 by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)