Women's Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem
Women's Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem Reuters

MPs in Paris have passed a law that makes it illegal for people to buy sex, meaning clients rather than prostitutes will be penalised.

The bill, led by Women's Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, means anyone found paying for sex will be fined €1,500 (£1,250) for a first offence. If caught a second time, the fine would be increased to €3,000.

It follows the "Nordic Model", which was first introduced in Sweden in 1999 and adopted in Norway and Iceland 10 years later.

The law has proved successful in Scandinavia, where countries generally rate highly for gender equality and acknowledge exploitation within the sex industry. The bill has also been supported by prostitution and sex trafficking survivors.

While the bill has been approved by MPs, it must now pass in the senate before coming into force.

The 20 articles in the bill are mainly aimed to preventing foreign pimping networks and helping prostitutes who want to leave the sex trade. Politicians voted 268 in favour and 138 against the bill.

Of the vote, Vallaund-Belkacem said it was the "end of a long road strewn with pitfalls". While most welcomed the reform, some sex workers protested outside parliament with signs reading "Whores without clients seek job in the government".

Welcoming the bill, Equality Now spokesman Brendan Wynne said: "We are delighted that the French assembly has voted in favour of the 'Nordic Model' and commend Women's Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem for proposing the bill. At this point, we urge the French senate to take the relevant steps to respond quickly to ensure that this model is implemented as a matter of urgency.

"A key element of the bill which France voted in favour of is to focus on the buyer's choice and criminalise the demand for commercial sex, which perpetuates gender inequality and fuels sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.

"The legislation would also decriminalise the person in prostitution and provide exiting services and support.

"A trend is also starting to emerge throughout Europe, with Ireland due to vote on the same model hopefully soon and Finland's Minister for Justice calling for the same. This positive wave is likely to strengthen further as neighbouring countries feel the increased ill-effects of their own harmful policies."

Wynne added that the Netherlands and Germany, which legalised prostitution over a decade ago to regulate the industry, are now beginning to backtrack as their laws are failing to control prostitution.

"It is becoming increasingly obvious that attempts to regulate the commercial sex industry through legalisation or decriminalisation do not make things safer for people in prostitution. Instead, they conceal and legitimise the exploitation and violence which those who buy sex inflict."