The Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls wishes to share her position on France’s Law on Strengthening the Fight Against the Prostitution System and Providing Support for Prostituted Persons (Law 2016-444) within the framework of European Court of Human Rights case M.A. & Others v France.1 The case was lodged by 250 individuals involved in prostitution and supported by 19 French NGOs and aims to obtain the repeal of provisions within the afore mentioned law that criminalize those who pay for sex.
The Special Rapporteur welcomes the holistic approach taken by France on prostitution, which both protects and provides alternatives for prostituted persons, while combating those who exploit their vulnerabilities: traffickers, pimps and sex-buyers.
Women and girls, from most marginalized communities, from the lowest casts, in situations of migration, of poverty, constitute the overwhelming majority among prostituted persons. Their vulnerability as a result of long-standing structural discrimination on multiple grounds makes them more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
The CEDAW Convention, Article 6, states that States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women. In the same spirit, the General Recommendation 38 of the CEDAW Committee on trafficking in women and girls in the context of global migration calls upon States to discourage the demand that fosters exploitation of prostitution and leads to trafficking n persons.
The (Palermo) Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, in particular its Article 9(5), calls upon States to adopt or strengthen legislative or other measures, such as educational, social or cultural measures, including through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking.
Similarly, the UN Resolution 77/194 on Trafficking in women and girls adopted on 15 December 2022 in plenary session of the UN General Assembly by all Member States calls upon Governments to intensify their efforts to prevent and address, with a view to eliminating, the demand that fosters the trafficking of women and girls for all forms of exploitation and in this regard to put in place or to enhance preventive measures, including legislative and punitive measures to deter exploiters of trafficked persons, as well as ensure their accountability.
Although the law is still relatively recent, encouraging effects have already been observed:
The arguments that decriminalizing the demand for the purchase of sexual acts improves the safety, dignity and living conditions of prostituted women does not appear to be supported by facts.
In conclusion, the Special Rapporteur urges the French Government to continue to intensify its fight against the demand for the purchase of sexual acts.
27 October 2023