Karnataka High Court Clarifies Anti-Trafficking Law: No Punishment for Victims Forced into Prostitution


In a significant ruling on June 10, the Karnataka High Court emphasized that India's anti-trafficking law, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA), does not punish sex workers or trafficking victims who are coerced into prostitution. Justice M Nagaprasanna underscored that the primary aim of the ITPA is to penalize those who exploit women or girls for commercial sexual purposes.

"The purpose or the object of the Act is not to abolish prostitution or the prostitute. There is no provision under the law, which penalizes a victim who indulges in prostitution. What is punishable is sexual exploitation for commercial purposes and to earn or make a living upon it against such person/s," Justice Nagaprasanna stated. This observation aligns with a previous ruling by the Bombay High Court, which warned against prosecuting victims under the ITPA, as it would constitute an abuse of the law.

The Karnataka High Court made these remarks while quashing criminal proceedings against a woman who had been booked in an ITPA case dating back to 2013. The petitioner was part of a group of girls allegedly forced into prostitution for a payment of ₹10,000. The group was intercepted by authorities while being transported from Udupi to Goa.

In 2024, the petitioner sought relief from the High Court, arguing that as a victim of prostitution, she should not face prosecution under Section 5 of the ITPA, which targets those who procure or attempt to procure women or girls for prostitution. Her counsel contended that prosecuting her would be unjust.

The State, however, argued that the petitioner could not seek quashing of the case after a decade, maintaining that she should face trial to establish her innocence. Despite this, the Court found merit in the petitioner's plea, noting that Section 5 of the ITPA does not penalize victims of trafficking.

"The petitioner approached the High Court to quash the case filed against her under Section 5 of the ITPA. The counsel for the petitioner contended that the petitioner was a victim of prostitution and should not be prosecuted," the Court observed.

In its ruling, the High Court granted relief to the petitioner, highlighting that the ITPA's provisions are designed to target traffickers and those who exploit victims, rather than the victims themselves. The Court thus quashed the proceedings pending against the petitioner, reinforcing the stance that victims of forced prostitution should not be criminalized.

This ruling serves as a critical reminder of the need to protect victims of trafficking and ensure that anti-trafficking laws are applied justly, focusing on punishing the perpetrators rather than the exploited individuals.

Author: Anushka Taraniya

News writer