29 November 2013, 17:02

French parliament to debate controversial prostitution bill

French parliament to debate controversial prostitution bill

France's parliament was set to begin debating a controversial bill on Friday that cracks down on prostitution by penalizing people who pay for sex, while offering prostitutes help to quit the profession.

The bill, which marks a turning point in the country's efforts to eradicate the sex trade, would scrap existing fines and prison sentences for prostitutes, replacing them with sanctions against their customers.

"There would be no prostitution without clients - that goes without saying. But we also know there will always be clients for prostitution," Maud Olivier, one of two Socialist Party MPs behind the bill, wrote in a report to parliament.

"Our ambition should be to try to reduce the number," the report continued.

At present, prostitutes face a fine of 3,750 euros (5096 dollars) and a two-month prison sentence for soliciting people to pay for sex.

Under the new legislation, people caught buying sex would be fined 1,500 euros or be required to attend a course about the conditions in which prostitution is carried out - in some cases both. For repeat offenders, the fine would be doubled.

Sex workers, meanwhile, would be given help to find other work. Foreign nationals would be given the option to remain legally in France.

The legislation, which has been largely opposed by prostitutes, has divided public opinion.

Associations working with prostitutes, such as medical charity Medecins du Monde, have warned that penalizing customers will drive prostitution underground, making prostitutes more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

France's governing Socialists have said the bill is inspired by Sweden, which criminalized the purchase of sex in 1999. Since then, the number of sex workers in the country has halved.

Germany took the opposite approach in 2001, passing a law to remove stigma from sex work by, for instance, giving prostitutes access to social benefits. Germany now has an estimated 400,000 prostitutes - a figure seen by critics as a mark of failure.

While triggering a vigorous debate and dividing the Left, the bill is expected to pass a vote in parliament on December 4 with support from the opposition.

Voice of Russia, dpa

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