French law that makes it illegal to pay for sex 'revolutionary': Activists

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French Parliament Bans Payment for Sex

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -- A new law passed in France that makes it an offense to pay for sex and moves the punishment from prostitutes to clients, has been hailed as revolutionary by activists who hope it will help stamp out sex trafficking.

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Under the law, passed on Wednesday, those who pay for sex will face fines of up to 1,500 euros ($1,700) for the first offense, and up to 3,750 Euros ($4,300) for subsequent offenses. They may also have to attend a prostitution awareness course.

See more of the protests in France in the gallery below:

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France law criminalizes paying for sex
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French law that makes it illegal to pay for sex 'revolutionary': Activists
Protesters hold up their fists and chant slogans during a demonstration by sex workers and supporters near the French National Assembly in Paris on April 6, 2016, as French lawmakers take part in a final debate on a bill that would make it illegal to pay for sex. French lawmakers were poised on April 6 to pass a controversial law that makes it illegal to pay for sex and imposes fines of up to 3,500 euros ($3,970) on prostitutes' clients. / AFP / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester wears a mask during a demonstration by sex workers and supporters near the French National Assembly in Paris on April 6, 2016, as French lawmakers take part in a final debate on a bill that would make it illegal to pay for sex. French lawmakers were poised on April 6 to pass a controversial law that makes it illegal to pay for sex and imposes fines of up to 3,500 euros ($3,970) on prostitutes' clients. / AFP / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters hold a banner reading 'Don't liberate me, I'll take care of it myself!' during a demonstration by sex workers and supporters near the French National Assembly in Paris on April 6, 2016, as French lawmakers take part in a final debate on a bill that would make it illegal to pay for sex. French lawmakers were poised on April 6 to pass a controversial law that makes it illegal to pay for sex and imposes fines of up to 3,500 euros ($3,970) on prostitutes' clients. / AFP / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester (R) holds a sign reading 'Prostitutes with fists raised against the penalization of clients!' during a demonstration by sex workers and supporters near the French National Assembly in Paris on April 6, 2016, as French lawmakers take part in a final debate on a bill that would make it illegal to pay for sex. French lawmakers were poised on April 6 to pass a controversial law that makes it illegal to pay for sex and imposes fines of up to 3,500 euros ($3,970) on prostitutes' clients. / AFP / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester wears a hat rimmed with red roses during a demonstration by sex workers and supporters near the French National Assembly in Paris on April 6, 2016, as French lawmakers take part in a final debate on a bill that would make it illegal to pay for sex. French lawmakers were poised on April 6 to pass a controversial law that makes it illegal to pay for sex and imposes fines of up to 3,500 euros ($3,970) on prostitutes' clients. / AFP / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A sex worker holds a sign during a protest against new bill against prostitution and sex trafficking, in Paris, Wednesday, April 6, 2016. France's lower house of parliament holds a final vote on Wednesday on a bill against prostitution and sex trafficking that bans buying sex, not selling it. Customers would face fines and be required to attend classes on the harms of prostitution. Opponents fear that cracking down will push prostitutes to hide and they would be even more at the mercy of pimps and violent clients. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Sex workers hold signs during a protest against new bill against prostitution and sex trafficking, in Paris, Wednesday, April 6, 2016. France's lower house of parliament holds a final vote on Wednesday on a bill against prostitution and sex trafficking that bans buying sex, not selling it. Customers would face fines and be required to attend classes on the harms of prostitution. Opponents fear that cracking down will push prostitutes to hide and they would be even more at the mercy of pimps and violent clients. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
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France follows Northern Ireland, Canada, Sweden, Norway and Iceland in introducing laws designed to punish the client without criminalizing those who have been driven into prostitution.

"That's a revolution in France because they've been criminalized for the last 76 years," Gregoire Thery, secretary general of the French non-profit Mouvement du Nid, which works with men and women in prostitution, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.

There are between 30,000 and 37,000 sex workers in France, according to the Central Office for the Suppression of Trafficking of Human Beings.

Nearly 85 percent of them are victims of human trafficking, mainly from Bulgaria, Romania, Nigeria, Cameroon and China, Thery said by phone from France.

He said shifting the criminal charge from victim to the client would make France less attractive for pimps and traffickers.

"There is not a single state in the world that can argue that (it) is making a real effort to fight against trafficking of human beings if the demand is not tackled."

Many sex workers do not have the right to work in France. The new law paves the way for those who want to leave prostitution to receive residence permits and financial support.

($1 = 0.8785 euros)

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