France prostitution: MPs back fines for clients

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Media captionProtesters demonstrate against the bill in Paris

French MPs have approved a bill that will penalise anyone paying for sex.

The bill, which was adopted by a vote of 268 to 138, with 79 abstentions, establishes a fine of at least 1,500 euros ($2,030) for buying sexual acts.

Under the new bill, prostitution will remain legal and the act of soliciting will now not be punished. Pimping will remain illegal.

Supporters of the bill say it punishes clients, but critics argue it puts sex workers at risk.

The bill must still pass the Senate before coming into force.

'Forced to hide'

MPs had backed the bill in a show of hands last Friday.

Wednesday's vote was on the full 20 articles. Most are aimed at disrupting foreign pimping networks or helping sex workers who want to stop.

Image caption Women's Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem praised the passing of the vote

According to the French interior ministry, foreign prostitutes make up 80-90% of all sex workers in the country and most of those are the victims of trafficking rings.

The 1,500-euro fine is for first offenders - subsequent offences could be more than double that.

The bill has sparked protests both for and against its measures.

Women's Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem backed the reforms, saying that all prostitution was unacceptable.

She said the latest vote was "the end of a long road strewn with pitfalls".

But Tim Leicester, of the medical charity Medecins du Monde, said he feared that penalising those who paid for sex would actually harm prostitutes.

"That won't change anything for prostitutes. They will be forced to continue to hide themselves because even if they are not risking arrest, their clients are. And their survival depends on their clients."

One sex worker in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris told Reuters that clients had become less frequent, adding: "Those that still come here all ask me the same questions: 'Is the law going through? What are we going to do?'"

Prominent feminist Elisabeth Baninter also opposed the bill, saying it reflected a stereotypical view of male sexuality and violence against women.

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