France passes law to punish those who pay for sex

Transgender sex workers protest against a parliamentary vote to enforce the penalisation of solicitation on April 6, 2016.
Transgender sex workers protest against a parliamentary vote to enforce the penalisation of solicitation on April 6, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

PARIS • After a debate lasting nearly 21/2 years, France's Parliament has approved a Bill to discourage prostitution by penalising those who pay for sex, following the example of Sweden and Norway.

The National Assembly, France's lower house of Parliament, voted 64-12 for the Bill, with the vast majority of the 577 Assembly members not voting. Parliament can approve legislation without a quorum.

The French Socialist government, which had backed the bill, hailed the new law as a victory.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls posted a message on Twitter saying Wednesday's vote was "a major advance" for the rights of women.

Under the new law, first-time offenders will pay a fine of €1,500 (S$2,300) if they "solicit, accept or obtain relations of a sexual nature" from a prostitute in exchange for money. The fine can rise to €3,750 for repeat offenders.

Convicted offenders may also have to attend classes to learn about the vulnerability of women in the sex trade. There is also the option for a settlement in which the offender could be ordered to take classes in lieu of the fine.

The law also repeals an existing measure that penalises solicitation by prostitutes.

Prostitutes who wish to leave the sex business will be eligible for funding to pay for training in other fields. But unions representing prostitutes and non-governmental organisations that support them have complained that not enough money is allocated to help France's 20,000 to 40,000 prostitutes, an estimate provided by various organisations and government agencies.

The law would also help foreign prostitutes acquire temporary residence permits and find other work, since 80 per cent to 90 per cent of France's prostitutes come from outside the country and are victims of human trafficking.

Some prostitutes, however, demonstrated against the law outside the National Assembly on Wednesday, saying it would further stigmatise them, hurt their business and push it further underground.

France is in step with a Europe-wide trend away from laws that penalise women who offer sex for money, though there is little consensus over what approach to adopt to discourage the sex business.

Many countries have somewhat ambivalent measures. In France, prostitution is not illegal but buying sex is. Some countries, like the Czech Republic, allow prostitution but prohibit brothels. Others, like Switzerland, allow licensed brothels but prohibit solicitation.

The Netherlands and Germany take a different approach, regulating prostitution as a business and requiring health checks and other measures to protect both the prostitutes and their customers.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2016, with the headline 'France passes law to punish those who pay for sex'. Print Edition | Subscribe