By Magdalena Mis
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A new law passed in France that makes it an offence to pay for sex and moves the punishment from prostitutes to clients, has been hailed as revolutionary by activists who hope it will help stamp out sex trafficking.
Under the law, passed on Wednesday, those who pay for sex will face fines of up to 1,500 euros ($1,700) for the first offence, and up to 3,750 Euros ($4,300) for subsequent offences. They may also have to attend a prostitution awareness course.
France follows Northern Ireland, Canada, Sweden, Norway and Iceland in introducing laws designed to punish the client without criminalising those who have been driven into prostitution.
"That's a revolution in France because they've been criminalised for the last 76 years," Gregoire Thery, secretary general of the French non-profit Mouvement du Nid, which works with men and women in prostitution, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.
There are between 30,000 and 37,000 sex workers in France, according to the Central Office for the Suppression of Trafficking of Human Beings.
Nearly 85 percent of them are victims of human trafficking, mainly from Bulgaria, Romania, Nigeria, Cameroon and China, Thery said by phone from France.
He said shifting the criminal charge from victim to the client would make France less attractive for pimps and traffickers.
"If we really want to tackle trafficking of human beings we have to attack the profitability of the market, and the market is financed only by the money that the buyers spend," he said.
"There is not a single state in the world that can argue that (it) is making a real effort to fight against trafficking of human beings if the demand is not tackled."
Many sex workers do not have the right to work in France. The new law paves the way for those who want to leave prostitution to receive residence permits and financial support.
(Reporting by Magdalena Mis, editing by Alex Whiting; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)