Although most people assume that prostitution is generally a bad thing, and that its participants are victims of some sort, there are some convincing arguments to the contrary. Instead of expressing my personal opinion or arguing for what I believe here, I want to briefly outline both cases and then pose some questions that relate this issue to our study of human rights.
AGAINST PROSTITUTION: Prostitution is not about women enjoying rights over their own bodies; on the contrary, it is an expression of men's control over women's sexuality. It is about gendered, ethnic, age, racial and class power relations. By no means can there be "consent of two adults", when one party is the buyer and the other the seller, especially when the buying party happens to be socially constructed as the better sex, race, or class. Prostitution is not a choice made by free will, but rather by social and financial pressures and desperation, and it is a violation of human rights.
FOR PROSTITUTION: Prostitution is the voluntary sale of a labor service. Individuals own their own bodies and their own labor services and have the absolute right to decide how those labor services should be used. As long as the prostitution transaction is voluntary, there is no justification for interference. Such interference would be an infringement of the privacy and personal liberty of the individuals involved. Everyone has the human right to work and freely choose their employment. Prostitution clearly does not constitute a violation of human rights.
So what do you think— Is prostitution a violation of human rights? If it is a human's choice to participate in activities that "violate" their human rights, are there human rights still violated? Are we morally obligated to respect their decisions as rational, free actors, or the UNHDR?
Thinking about this makes me also consider the obligations (if any) of the rights-enforcer. If a woman is "rescued" from human rights violations enacted against her while she is a prostitute, is her liberator responsible for remedying the social and financial situation which lead the woman to become a prostitute in the first place? Clearly, the UNDHR and international law suggests that a rights-enforcer's duty is to address the violated right, not the situation which breeds it.
Let's think of another example: Say you feel strongly that a baby's life begins in the womb, and that by aborting it, you are robbing it of its right to life. Because of this, you feel it is your moral duty to protect the human rights of the unborn, so you "intervene" by voting for Pro-Life legislation in your state. Say the law is passed. Is now also your moral duty to help provide for all of the children that would have otherwise been aborted—buying them formula and changing their diapers? Most people do not see "human rights enforcement" in this way.
It seems to me that herein lies one of the biggest problems with human rights and their enforcement. Human rights violations don't often appear out of thin air; they arise from circumstance that encourage and instigate them. Although we may feel it's our moral duty to intervene when human rights are violated, we rarely feel such conviction to respond to the circumstances themselves. What do you think? Do we have a duty to expand our notion human rights enforcement? To what extent? What if that infringes upon the will of the "victim"? Do we have a greater duty to respect the decisions of the individual?