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To Discourage Prostitution, France Passes Bill That Penalizes Clients

PARIS — After a debate lasting nearly two and a half years, France’s Parliament on Wednesday approved a bill to discourage prostitution by penalizing those who pay for sex, following the example of Sweden and Norway.

The National Assembly, France’s lower house of Parliament, voted 64 to 12 for the bill, with the vast majority of the 577 Assembly members not voting. Parliament can approve legislation without a quorum.

The French Socialist government, which had backed the bill, hailed the new law as a victory.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls posted a message on Twitter saying the vote was “a major advance” for the rights of women.

The minister for women’s rights, Laurence Rossignol, told the National Assembly before the vote that prostitution was “violence done to women” and that the new measure would send a message to those who work as prostitutes that “the state, the Parliament and society finally recognizes fully the violence of the system of prostitution.”

The measure first won approval from the Assembly in 2013 but was then turned down by the Senate, which has a majority of right-leaning lawmakers in contrast to the Assembly, which is dominated by left-leaning lawmakers. When the two chambers do not agree, the Assembly has the final say.

Under the new law, first time offenders will pay a fine of 1,500 euros, or about $1,700, if they “solicit, accept or obtain relations of a sexual nature” from a prostitute in exchange for money. The fine can rise to 3,750 euros (about $4,300) for repeat offenders.

Convicted offenders may also have to attend classes to learn about the vulnerability of women in the sex trade. There is also the option for a settlement in which the offender could be ordered to take classes in lieu of the fine.

The law also repeals an existing measure that penalizes solicitation by prostitutes, which many viewed as having forced prostitutes to work in more desolate neighborhoods or outside of city centers where they were less likely to be arrested by the police, but also where they were less safe.

Prostitutes who wish to leave the sex business will be eligible for funding to pay for training in other fields. But unions representing prostitutes and nongovernmental organizations that support them have complained that not enough money is allocated to help France’s 20,000 to 40,000 prostitutes, an estimate provided by various organizations and government agencies.

The law would also help foreign prostitutes acquire temporary residence permits and find other work, since 80 percent to 90 percent of France’s prostitutes come from outside the country and are victims of human trafficking, Ms. Rossignol said.

Some prostitutes, however, demonstrated against the law outside the National Assembly on Wednesday, saying that it would further stigmatize them, hurt their business and push it more underground.

France is in step with a European-wide trend away from laws that penalize women who offer sex for money, although there is little consensus over what approach to adopt to discourage the sex business.

A few countries, now including France, penalize customers. Sweden was a pioneer, enacting such a law in 1999.

But many countries have somewhat ambivalent measures. In France, prostitution is not illegal but buying sex is.

Some countries, like the Czech Republic, allow prostitution but prohibit brothels. Others, like Switzerland, allow licensed brothels but prohibit solicitation.

The Netherlands and Germany take a different approach, regulating prostitution as a business and requiring health checks and other measures to protect both the prostitutes and their customers.

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By ALISSA J. RUBIN

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