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Is it wrong to buy sex?

  • Published at 12:53 am August 12th, 2016
  • Last updated at 03:45 pm August 12th, 2016
Is it wrong to buy sex?
“We need to keep prostitution legal in Bangladesh to regulate the industry,” said one of my friends the other day. She has spent many an hour providing sustenance to sex workers in various red-light areas around the nation through her work at UNDP Bangladesh. I agreed then, considering how they would be denied a source of income and stripped of their legal rights if we were to ban this industry. But are these the right reasons to keep prostitution legal in our country? Having given this matter a fair amount of thought, researched the topic, compared our stance to the rest of the world, and read what some noteworthy philosophers had to say regarding the topic, I no longer consider those reasons to be good enough. By legalising prostitution, we Bangladeshis are collectively saying that it is okay to work as a prostitute.

If we have acceded to the contract, why are we lagging behind to put it in practice? Why would we let some middle-aged married guy (which is usually the case) to engage in carnal proclivities so that a few women can have a degrading job?

Bangladesh is one of the very few countries in the world where prostitution is both legal and regulated. Are we as a nation trying to promote prostitution for tourism, pleasure, or for any other reason for that matter? For argument’s sake, let us, for a moment, say that the only way to regulate this industry is by legalising it, because, no matter what, we cannot stop this so-called “oldest profession in the world” from existing. But, if we are to believe in that logic, shouldn’t we also legalise the deadliest drugs? Where does our moral boundary lie? Or have we lost those morals and see everything as grey? Do the proponents of prostitution share similar moral reasoning when it comes to addicts who would want all drugs to be legalised? Prostitution as an industry is highly exploitative and coercive. Most sex workers, if not all, are forcefully dragged into this profession by poverty, and human-trafficking. Often, they are trapped into this humiliating industry by the circumstances of their lives, and a lack of proper job opportunities. Such a coerced profession is no different from slavery, and has no moral base for justification. But what happens when adults willingly engage in such behaviour? What about the libertarian argument that people should be allowed to freely choose their labour and pleasure? Can we then justify the moral case for prostitution? If the consent of adults is all we care about, then our society is destined for doom. We wouldn’t bother to ban any drug or stop anyone from committing suicide. Is the basis of such labours or pleasures corrupt? Yes, for example, in the case of prostitution, sex workers are merely used as objects to satisfy the need of some other person. Objectifying human beings as a sexual commodity fails to respect human dignity and does not do justice to the sanctity of human life. In the words Immanuel Kant, “to let one’s person out on hire and to surrender it to another for the satisfaction of his sexual desire in return for money is the depth of infamy.” In 1949, UN General Assembly adopted the following convention: “Prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person, and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family, and the community.” The convention requires all the contracting countries to punish whoever exploits the prostitution of another person, even with the consent of that person. Bangladesh acceded to the “Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others” on January 11, 1985. If we have acceded to the contract, why are we lagging behind to put it in practice? Why would we let some middle-aged married guy (which is usually the case) to engage in carnal proclivities so that a few women can have a degrading job? Can’t we, as a society, do any better to provide those women with regular jobs, or an honourable source of earning, and perhaps a normal life -- a dignified one? Would we want such freedom in our society, as some free market libertarian might suggest? Or does allowing such a degrading form of freedom inadvertently violate our general understanding of a good life? Rasheek Irtisam is a PhD candidate in finance at the University of Memphis.