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Who should be punished; prostitutes or clients?

30 March 2015, 13:20

Paris - French senators will on Monday debate whether the law should punish prostitutes or their clients, as France resumes a divisive discussion on how to crack down on the world's oldest profession.

The proposed law completely revises a bill passed by France's lower house in 2013 that never took effect.

That bill would have dropped a 2003 law that made offering sex for sale a crime and would have instead pushed the onus on to clients, making them subject to a fine.

The bill passed by the lower house, the National Assembly, two years ago made clients of prostitutes liable for a maximum fine of 1,500 euros ($1,620).

But under the revamped bill on the Senate floor from Monday, prostitutes would continue to face fines of up to 3,750 euros for selling sex, yet the previous provision of fining clients would be dropped.

Both versions of the legislation have drawn fierce opposition from sex workers who say they would simply push prostitution further underground and make the women who earn their living from it more vulnerable to abuse.

Hundreds of prostitutes -- many South American and Chinese, and many wearing masks -- took to the streets of Paris on Saturday to protest the proposed laws.

"Prostitution is legal in France," said Franceline Lepany, who advocates for sex workers' rights. "This bill seeks to even further stigmatise prostitutes."

Paying or accepting payment for sex currently is not, in itself, a crime in France. But soliciting, pimping (which includes running brothels) and the sale of sex by minors are prohibited.

The move to depenalise prostitution and put the responsibility on clients was inspired by similar legislation on the books since 1999 in Sweden, with the aim of eliminating the sex trade.

France's government argues the bill's aim is to prevent violence against women and protect the large majority of prostitutes who are victims of trafficking gangs.

There are an estimated 30,000 sex workers in France, more than 80 percent of whom come from abroad. According to the interior ministry, most come from eastern Europe, Africa, China and South America.

The Senate bill also calls for tougher measures against pimps, more support for victims and development of alternatives to prostitution as well as prevention efforts aimed at young people.

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