French Senate seeks to thwart landmark bill that would punish clients instead of prostitutes

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PARIS — A French bill which aims to make it illegal to buy sex is being turned upside down by the Senate, led by the conservative opposition.

The bill was approved by France's Socialist-dominated lower house of Parliament in 2013 amid heated debate. Supporters argue it would help fight human trafficking networks, while opponents defend those who buy sex from France's 40,000 prostitutes.

Prostitution is currently legal in France, but prostitutes are often arrested and charged for soliciting in public, which is prohibited. Brothels, pimping, and the sale of sex by minors is also illegal.

The proposed bill aims to introduce a 1,500-euro (about $1,620) fine for buyers and decriminalize soliciting.

The Senate is taking up the debate Monday and votes on the bill Tuesday. During preparatory work in commission, senators amended the text to keep the ban on soliciting and remove punishment for customers. Instead, they are promoting tougher measures against pimps and more support for women who want to find a way out of prostitution.

The final vote, in the lower house, could be several months away.

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.

The debate called attention to the evolution of the sex business, as the number of foreign prostitutes, especially from Asia and eastern Europe, has soared in recent years.

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