The Council of Europe has urged member states to step up the fight against human trafficking and prostitution. The recommendation by Europe’s leading human rights organisation is not legally binding.
The Strasbourg-based assembly on Tuesday stopped short of calling for a ban, but it proposed following the example of Sweden where prostitutes are protected but their clients are prosecuted.
A council report said known cases of human trafficking of sex slaves had decreased in Sweden, following a tightening of the law in 1999. It made it illegal to buy sexual services, but not to sell them.
The assembly of representatives from 47 member countries, including Switzerland, also called for a ban on procuring and pimping. It recommended setting the minimum age for prostitution at 21.
José Mendes Bota, a representative from Portugal and rapporteur said it was wrong to believe that women choose prostitution out of their own free will.
“I am inclined to think that voluntary, free and independent prostitution – free from exploitation – is little more than a myth, as it applies to a small minority of sex workers,” Mendes Bota wrote in his report.
Doris Fiala, one of six Swiss parliamentarians in the Council of Europe assembly, said the Swedish approach was worth considering.
Prostitution has been legal and regulated in Switzerland since 1942. However, street prostitution is illegal, except in specially designated areas in major cities.
Last year, parliament decided to raise the legal age of prostitution in Switzerland from 16 to 18 in line with an international child protection convention.
People who pay for sex with 16- or 17-year-old prostitutes will face up to three years in prison. Underage prostitutes themselves face no punishment.
The cabinet signed the Lanzarote Convention – otherwise known as the Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse – back in 2010.
swissinfo.ch and agencies