The petitioner, an Advocate, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) before the Supreme Court (SC) of India, based on an article "A Red Light Trap: Society gives no chance to prostitutes' offspring" published in the magazine 'India Today' dated July 11, 1988. The petitioner prayed for establishing separate educational institutions for the children of the fallen women (term used by the SC throughout the judgment). The SC stated in its order dated 15-11-1989 that “segregating children of prostitutes by locating separate schools and providing separate hostels would not be in the interest of the children and the society at large”. While the SC did not accept the plea for separate hostels for children of prostitutes, it felt that "accommodation in hostels and other reformatory homes should be adequately available to help segregation of these children from their mothers living in prostitute homes as soon as they are identified".
The SC constituted a Committee directing it to submit a report giving suggestions for appropriate action. Upon submission of the report of the Committee, the SC formulated the following questions for decision: -
- What are the rights of the children of fallen women, the modules to segregate them from their mothers and others so as to give them protection, care and rehabilitation in the mainstream of the national life?
- What should be the scheme to be evolved to eradicate prostitution, i.e., the source itself; and what succour and sustenance can be provided to the fallen victims of flesh trade?
In its judgment, the SC quoted the Fundamental Rights of women and children from the Constitution of India (namely, Articles 14, 15, 16, 21, 23, 24, 38, 39, 45, 46) and relevant international instruments. The court deliberated on the reasons for prostitution and the continuation of the victims in profession and recognized that the victims are the poor, illiterate and ignorant sections of the society who are the target group in the flesh trade; rich communities exploit them and harvest at their misery and ignominy in an organised gangsterism, in particular, with police nexus. The court held that women found in the flesh trade, should be viewed more as victims of adverse socio-economic circumstances rather than as offenders in our society. Equally, the right of the child is the concern of the society so that fallen women surpass trafficking of her person from exploitation; contribute to bring up her children; live a life with dignity; and not to continue in the foul social environment. Equally, the children have the right to equality of opportunity, dignity and care, protection and rehabilitation by the society with both hands open to bring them into the mainstream of social life without pre-stigma affixed on them for no fault of her/his.
The SC stated that three Cs, viz., Counselling, Cajoling and Coercion were necessary to effectively enforce the provisions of various statutes. The role of NGOs in rehabilitating and educating the children of the fallen women was emphasized. Detailed directions were given for rescue, rehabilitation of prostitutes and children of prostitutes. The SC held that society was responsible for a woman becoming a victim of circumstances therefore, society should make reparation to prevent trafficking in women, rescue them from red light areas and other areas in which the women were driven or trapped in prostitution. Their rehabilitation by socio-economic empowerment and justice, is the constitutional duty of the State. Their economic empowerment and social justice with dignity of person, are the fundamental rights and the Court and the Government should positively endeavour to ensure them.
This decision of the Supreme Court of India arises from a Public Interest Litigation filed as Writ Petition (C) No. 824 of 1988 with Writ Petition (Cri.) Nos. 745-754/54 of 1990
Constitution of India, 1950; Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956; Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973; Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 (The Act has since been amended and is now known as the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000)
Supreme Court of India
AIR 1997 SC 3021; 1997 (2) ALD (Cri) 199; 1998 (3) ALLMR (SC) 433; (1998) 2 CALLT 9 (SC); 1997 (2) Crimes 40 (SC); JT 1997 (6) SC 305; 1997 (4) SCALE 657; (1997) 8 SCC 114;  Supp 2 SCR 105
Gaurav Jain and Supreme Court Bar Association versus Union of India and Ors. - Citation - 1998 (4) SCC 270