Kerala HC Expands Liability Under Anti-Trafficking Law

The Kerala High Court has ruled that a customer found in a brothel can be charged under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956. The significant judgment widens the ambit of the law combating human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

Understanding India’s Anti Sex-Trafficking Law

The Immoral Traffic Prevention (ITP) Act, enacted in 1956, outlaws organising or abetting prostitution through:

  • Operating brothels or renting property for the same
  • Living off earnings from prostitutes
  • Procuring or inducing people into sex work

It also prohibits public solicitation and penalizes clients patronizing sex workers near places of worship, hospitals etc.

Punishments range from 3 years to life imprisonment plus fines depending on victim age, consent etc. But key terms lacked clarity.

Case Details

A customer found in a brothel recently challenged his charges under the ITP Act in the Kerala High Court, arguing the law targets pimps and landlords not patrons. But the HC dismissed his plea, upholding the charges while widening liability ambit.

Interpreting the Law

  • The Court examined the word ‘procure’ under a key section punishing those compelling/coercing/inducing persons into prostitution.
  • While ‘procure’ traditionally means obtaining or getting possession of something, the judges expansively interpreted it as also applying to those gaining ‘domain over someone’ for sex work purposes.
  • This brings customers paying for such services clearly under the statute by considering them as ‘procuring’ or facilitating victim exploitation as per legislative intent.

Conflicting Past Rulings

Importantly, in the past other High Courts had given differing verdicts on whether ITP Act sections apply to brothel clients with Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka previously ruling in the negative.

But recent Kerala HC judgments consistently maintained liability citing the impossibility of ‘immoral trafficking’ without participation of all parties in the transaction.

Implications of Material Expansion

The latest decision carries forward prior perspectives entailing clients can be prosecuted for abetting organized sexual abuse, not just profiteers and enablers.

However, it upheld charges alone currently rather than outright conviction, signaling case-by-case assessment.

But the jurisprudential expansion undoubtedly serves to deter demand significantly aiding rehabilitation efforts relying on societal attitude shifts. It brings accountability across the spectrum.

The verdict also provokes examining other trafficking and exploitation laws through a similar paradigm lens. Ultimately, highlighting and prosecuting complicity accelerates eliminating coerced human indignity.



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