PARIS (AP) — The French parliament's lower house is holding a final vote on Wednesday on a bill against prostitution and sex trafficking that would ban buying sex, not selling it. Customers would face fines and be required to attend classes on the harms of prostitution.
The bill is likely to be adopted since the National Assembly, which has the final say, is in favor of the proposal. And if adopted, the bill would make French law one of the toughest against sex buyers in Europe.
Prostitution is currently legal in France. The measure would do away with a 2003 law that bans passive soliciting by prostitutes on the street. Brothels, pimping and the sale of sex by minors are already illegal.
The bill would introduce a 1,500-euro ($1,700) fine for clients, rising to 3,750 euros for a second offense. The convicted client would be forced to attend classes highlighting the dangers associated with prostitution. The measure would also make it easier for foreign prostitutes — many currently illegally in France — to acquire a temporary residence permit if they enter a process to get out of the prostitution business.
Supporters of the bill argue that it would help fight trafficking networks.
"The most important aspect of this law is to accompany prostitutes, give them identity papers because we know that 85 percent of prostitutes here are victims of trafficking," Maud Olivier, a lawmaker with the governing Socialists and a sponsor of the legislation, told The Associated Press.
Olivier said that many of the sex workers who arrive in France have their passports confiscated by pimps.
"We will provide them with documents on the condition they commit to leave prostitution behind," she added.
But opponents fear that cracking down will push prostitutes to hide, leaving them even more at the mercy of pimps and violent clients.
France's parliament started debating the bill in 2013, but the final vote was delayed due to sharp divisions between the lower parliamentary chamber and the Senate.
Written by a group of lawmakers from both right and left and backed by the Socialist government, the legislation has been inspired by Sweden, which passed a similar measure in 1999. Norway and Iceland also followed the Swedish model.
Other countries such as Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, where brothels are legal, are interested in the French experience.
Thomas Adamson, Masha Macpherson and Alex Turnbull in Paris contributed to this report.