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The Facts

United Kingdom
Aotearoa/New Zealand

new internationalist
issue 252 - February 1994

Prostitution & The Law - The FACTS

[image, unknown]
Illustration by JACKIE MORRIS
Illustration: Jackie Morris Illustration: Jackie Morris

From Rio to Rome, from Dakar to Darwin, laws on prostitution are illogical and contradictory.They reflect the confusion felt by lawyers and by the general public about work so clearly connected with sex. Child prostitution is illegal nearly everywhere, but the law has little effect. The legal situation for adult prostitutes falls into two main categories: prohibition, which simply relocates the sex trade, and registration, which fails to produce the desired controls.
Prostitutes everywhere are persecuted.

Policy: Not a crime, according to Article 19 of the Constitution: ‘private actions that in no way offend order and public morals or do damage to a third party are reserved to be judged by God and fall outside the competence of judges’. But it is illegal to solicit, to aid or abet a prostitute, live off their earnings, or run a brothel.

Practice: Prostitutes are arrested and fined or jailed for 21 days under edicts issued at the discretion of the police. There is no State protection.


Policy: Not illegal. It is illegal to operate an hotel or a house for prostitution purposes, to live off a prostitute’s earnings or to exploit a child for the purposes of prostitution.

Practice: Prostitutes are tolerated. Transvestites are generally arrested for offending public morals. Male prostitution is either subsumed under female or categorized as homosexuality.


Policy: Not an offence per se in the Criminal Code. Private transactions are legal, but soliciting, pimping and brothel-keeping are illegal under federal law.

Practice: Some cities use municipal by-laws relating to loitering and public nuisance against prostitutes. Prostitutes’ rights organizations have been working to repeal the prostitution laws and to empower prostitutes to improve their working conditions.


Policy: Illegal and punishable by imprisonment. Egyptian law states that a man who is caught with a prostitute is not imprisoned; instead, his testimony is used to convict and imprison the prostitute.

Practice: Prostitutes are socially ostracized.


Policy: Legal. Prostitutes are required to have health check-ups, but are not allowed to have health insurance. Brothels are in designated areas and operate only during certain hours.

Practice: When a brothel-owner improves the working conditions, this is seen to be stimulating prostitution and they could face prosecution. An active prostitutes’ rights movement is based in Berlin.


Policy: Illegal. There is a plethora of laws against the sex trade, including one in 1985 to ban devidasis, or temple prostitutes.

Practice: Organized networks for buying and selling women and girls exist despite the legislation. Devidasis continue to be sold to the temples. Any sexual intercourse outside socially acceptable unions is likely to be regarded as prostitution.


Policy: The 1925 Penal Code stated that prostitution was not a crime in itself, but that it was a crime to advocate it, to aid or abet a woman to enter prostitution or to operate a brothel. The current regime believes that execution – by firing squad or stoning – is a more fitting penalty.

Practice: Execution is common. Some Iranian feminists regard mut’a, a form of temporary marriage where the woman has few rights, as akin to prostitution. Under mut’a, it is possible to be ‘married’ for as little as half an hour.


Policy: No legal definition of prostitution in the Penal Code. But it is illegal to live off the earnings of prostitution.

Practice: Prostitution is increasing in urban areas as many rural migrant women fail to find other employment. Police regularly harass prostitutes. Researchers on AIDS and prostitution report that any woman who is single and has multiple male sex partners is considered to be a prostitute, whether or not money changes hands.


Policy: Prostitution is legal, regarded as a matter of privacy. Exploitation and pimping are illegal. Local councils decide when and where to prosecute. In most cities, soliciting is forbidden.

Practice: Prostitution businesses operate in a free-market situation. The businesses and the prostitutes have to pay taxes. But prostitutes have no rights as working women and face severe social stigmatization.


Policy: Prostitution is not illegal, but soliciting, brothel-keeping, living off the earnings of a prostitute and procuring are. Conviction can result in a prison sentence of up to five years.

Practice: Sex workers must use elaborate precautions to disguise the real nature of their work. This provides a major impediment for HIV/AIDS education in the sex industry.


Policy: Legal, with brothels licensed and regulated by the Ministry of Interior. Prostitutes must be registered with the Government, carry ID cards and submit to a check-up every 15 days.

Practice: Prostitution is on the increase. The Government receives income from licensing brothels.


Policy: Not illegal in itself. But it is illegal to aid or abet a woman to enter prostitution, to live off the earnings of a prostitute or to run a brothel. Prostitutes must be registered with the State, undergo regular health examinations and carry health cards.

Practice: Prostitution exists predominantly in urban centres and is increasing due to economic hardship. Prostitutes are considered social outcasts.


Policy: It is illegal under the Criminal Code to work as a prostitute or to live off the earnings of a prostitute.

Practice: Prostitutes operate as ‘entertainers’. Sex tourism, including sex with children, is common, though the majority of clients are local.


Policy: Legalized prostitution means that state brothels exist in certain areas of each town. Prostitutes have to register, carry special identity cards, and undergo bi-weekly medical examinations.

Practice: Prostitution is very profitable for brothel owners; an Istanbul brothel owner has for the past three years been the city’s top taxpayer. But prostitutes’ lives are severely restricted; on top of which they are socially ostracized and therefore unable to find other work.


Policy: Prostitution itself is not illegal, but soliciting, pimping and kerb-crawling are, making it effectively against the law. Most prostitutes have spent periods of time in jail, charged with soliciting.

Practice: Conviction means that they are banned from certain jobs and from travelling to certain places (such as the US) for the rest of their lives.

Information supplied by writer and activist Priscilla Alexander who has been co-director of COYOTE and a consultant to WHO on sex work and AIDS; and Mr A de Graaf Stichting, an Amsterdam-based information centre on prostitution.

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