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French Senate tears up controversial prostitution law

Prostitutes demonstrate in Paris with the slogan "We want rights",  28 March 2015
Prostitutes demonstrate in Paris with the slogan "We want rights", 28 March 2015 Nick Kozak

The French Senate has scrapped key sections of a government-backed law on prostitution, restoring the offence of soliciting and rejecting the criminalisation of clients.

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The French upper house, where opposition conservatives won a majority last September, overturned this week a controversial law against prostitution.

The original bill passed in the lower house of parliament in December 2012 decriminalised soliciting and imposed a 1,500-euro fine on clients.

Hundreds of prostitutes demonstrate in Paris

Buying and selling sex for money is legal in France but brothels, pimping and the sale of sex by minors are banned and the controversial act of soliciting became illegal in 2003 under former president Nicolas Sarkozy's government. 

"What happened is unbelievable and contemptuous of women," French Health Minister Marisol Touraine commented after the vote.

Women's rights in France - given or taken?

Putting the blame on prostitutes rather than their clients is "regressive" and "deprives us of a major tool to reduce demand and therefore prostitution", she added. 

Some 90 per cent of France's estimated 20,000-40,000 prostitutes are foreign, mostly victims of Nigerian, Chinese and Romanian trafficking networks.

"The Senate chose to protect the complete impunity of clients and chose to penalise even further the prostitutes instead of these men," said Grégoire Thery head of a group that wants the complete abolition of prostitution.

Hundreds of prostitutes demonstrated in the streets of Paris on Saturday to protest against the law.

"We don't want our clients to be penalised and we don't want an offense of solicitation," said Aying, the head of a group of Chinese prostitutes. "Who's going to pay our tax, loans, school registrations for our children if we don't have any more clients? "

Nevertheless, the legislation is to be revised again by the National Assembly - the lower house - before going on the statute books. 

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