Wednesday, December 7, 2011


France's parliament is to debate abolishing prostitution through a crackdown which would criminalise payment for sex.

The National Assembly will vote on a symbolic resolution drafted by a cross-party commission which, if successful, will be followed by a bill in January.

The resolution urges abolition at a time when "prostitution seems to be becoming routine in Europe".

Some campaigners reject the bill, advocating prostitutes' rights instead.

Around 20,000 people are believed to be working as prostitutes in France.

France has been committed to abolishing the practice in principle since 1960 but the MPs behind the resolution want this stance to be "proclaimed loud and strong".

The criminalisation of clients is "the best way to see prostitution reduced in France, given that all the countries that have regulated this activity have seen an increase", the commission has argued.

In 1999, the Swedish government brought in similar legislation to criminalise the buying of sex, while decriminalising its sale.

'Unacceptable for everyone'

Under existing French laws on prostitution, summed up by French Roman Catholic newspaper La Croix

  • France officially aspires to abolition but the act of prostitution itself is not a crime
  • Prostitution is only liable for prosecution when it troubles public order
  • A client faces prosecution only if the prostitute is under-age or "particularly vulnerable" because of illness etc
  • Pimping is punishable with a prison sentence of up to seven years, and there are some 1,000 convictions annually

According to Danielle Bousquet, the Socialist MP leading the drive for abolition, the new bill envisages six-month prison sentences and fines of 3,000 euros (£2,580; $4,000) for clients.

Guy Geoffroy, an MP from the ruling UMP party who also sits on the commission, said France's political parties had reached a consensus on the issue because it was a matter of "republican ethics".

Nine out of 10 prostitutes were victims of trafficking, he said.

"From now on prostitution is regarded from the point of view of violence against women and that has become unacceptable for everyone," Mr Geoffroy added.


Contributing to the pressure for abolition, a French-led men's initiative known as ZeroMacho has published a manifesto against prostitution, gathering some 200 signatures across EU states.

ZeroMacho member Jean-Sebastien Mallet told French women's website Terrafemina that it wanted to speak for "the vast majority of men - hitherto silent - who do not use prostitutes".

However, France's sex workers' trade union, Strass, has called a rally outside parliament to oppose the proposed bill.

It draws a clear distinction between consensual prostitution and sexual trafficking and fears that a reduction in clients might drive prostitutes to accept riskier transactions.

A letter to MPs signed by Strass and other groups accuses politicians of treating prostitutes as "marginals whose voice does not deserve to be heard".

It calls for prostitutes to be given rights rather than penalising clients and thereby creating "more isolation and more clandestine behaviour".


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