PARIS — A bill which aims to make it illegal to buy sex has been approved by France's lower house of Parliament for the second time on Friday, in a sharp battle that divides the two houses.
Supporters argue that the bill backed by the lower house and the Socialist government would help fight human trafficking networks, while opponents defend those who buy sex from France's 40,000 prostitutes.
The bill as approved Friday would penalize clients and remove punishment for soliciting. The upper house — led by conservative opposition — wants the reverse, and rewrote the bill accordingly in March.
The legislation will return to the Senate where the same scenario will probably repeat itself.
At the end of a complex process, the lower house, dominated by the Socialists, has the final say — but the ultimate vote could be months away.
Pascale Boistard, junior minister for women's rights, recalled what she said to express her disappointment when the Senate rewrote the bill: "Prostitutes are still guilty and the customer is still king."
"I am happy now to say that this adage is over," Boistard said Friday.
Prostitution is currently legal in France, but prostitutes are often arrested and charged for soliciting in public. Brothels, pimping, and the sale of sex by minors are also illegal.
The bill approved by the lower house aims to introduce a 1,500-euro (about $1,620) fine for buyers and decriminalize soliciting.
The bill, if approved at Parliament, would make French law one of the toughest against sex buyers in Europe. It was inspired by a similar law introduced in Sweden in 1999.