Red Light District of Lahore (Heera Mandi)

Pakistani government is cracking down on "immoral entertainment" to appease Taliban hardliners.

Prostitution in Pakistan is a taboo culture of sex-trade that exists as an open secret although being illegal. Prostitution is largely based in organisational set-ups like brothels or furthered by individual call girls. Sex-trade is deemed illegal due to the declaration of extramarital sex as an illegal activity. Prostitutes in the country, thus, operate underground and in spite of the legal difficulties, and contrary to popular belief, prostitution is thriving in the country. Both female and male prostitution have grown in operational yield in Pakistan over the years. With this increase in professional sex-trade in the country, non-governmental organisations are beginning to worry about issues like discrimination and AIDS.

In 2008, the United States State Department placed the Pakistan as a "Tier 2" in its annual Trafficking in Persons reports, meaning that it does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.

The caste system in South Asia, involving various castes and sects, has always been a ground for segregated skill development. In the region, occupational castes evolved over time providing specific skills to the society through hereditary exclusion from others. Being a blacksmith, goldsmith, shoemaker, or gardener etc., thus, became hereditary professions of specific communities. Over time, a professional caste which favoured the society with services of prostitution also evolved. Men and women belonging to the community committed themselves to the act of sex-trade, where men stayed as supportive influences and women were the main workers. The non-elite class had a parallel system, that of brothels, which evolved much later when they no longer were controlled by the kings and nobility was loosened. It coincided with the growth of sea-trade where sailors became good clientele for the low-ranking prostitutes. During the British Raj, the earlier nobility was replaced by a new nobility composed of those who showed loyalty for the British. This new nobility was incapable of taking the role of patrons like earlier kings, and so the British provided much need patronage for the profession to grow and regulated the trade.

After the partition in 1947, Pakistan inherited the historical red-light districts in Lahore and Multan including the infamous Hira Mandi area. These were well-developed and attracted both wealthy clients and those looking for singers and actresses. The prostitutes and associates in the sex-trade were named kanjars. while their musician companions were known as the community of mirasis. The prostitutes would usually, and still do, dance to the music of harmonium and tabla played by the mirasis.[citation needed] Where Lahore and Multan were the known contenders in the trade, other cities also had their own red-light districts which may include Napier Road in Karachi and Qasai Gali in Rawalpindi. The prostitutes retained the hereditary character of their occupation and the social stigma.

During the rule of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who tried to Islamise the nation, prostitution was viewed as an "evil" in society and attempts were made to eradicate prostitution. Attempts were also made to curb music and dancing. The hours for performance of the dancing girls were reduced to two hours every evening. Police checkpoints were established in all entrances of red-light districts during the hours of rehearsing or practising music where the names of the visitors in red-light areas were recorded in police register frightening the clients away.

At present one of the major issues related to prostitution is their discrimination within the society which usually results in extortion by the police, social isolation and stigmatization. The people involved in this profession are also vulnerable to AIDS. AIDS awareness has always been minimal in traditional red-light districts in the country. However in recent past, some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have pledged to promote public awareness regarding AIDS focusing their efforts mainly towards the sex-workers. This has greatly helped prostitutes in the red-light districts to have a reliable social contact for the first time concerning matters that were never before addressed. These very NGO circles have, as a result, benefited the profession.