The cabinet approved a bill on Wednesday to legalise prostitution, which would make the world's oldest profession a legal and regulated business. The bill must first be approved by parliament, and its safe passage through the lower and upper houses is far from assured. So what, exactly, does the bill propose?
Prostitution falls into a legal grey area in the Czech Republic. Having sex for money is not illegal, soliciting is. The Czech authorities have long looked at ways to bring the country's rampant sex industry under control, and on Wednesday approved a bill which would make prostitution a legal trade. If the bill becomes law, prostitutes will have to pay tax and insurance and undergo regular health checks. Local authorities will have the power to decide whether to allow prostitution in their districts.
The proposals are revolutionary, and have many critics, even amongst the ranks of the ruling coalition. Jiri Karas, an MP for the coalition Christian Democrats, is totally against the bill.
"People steal cars. They steal them in Prague and they steal them across the country. It's a criminal offence. The police manage to clear up only a small percentage of these crimes. So why don't we just make stealing cars legal? End of problem - no car crime. The state says prostitutes need to be forced off the streets. At the moment, because prostitution is a criminal offence, the state has the most effective means of forcing them off the streets. As soon as prostitution is legalised, the state won't be able to do anything about it."
Supporters of the bill argue that prostitution is here to stay, and the best way to bring it under control is to legalise it. But Jiri Karas believes the world's oldest profession should remain firmly beyond the bounds of the law.
"Of course it's the oldest profession, but I repeat - people have always stolen and they always will. People use drugs but we haven't legalised drug use. So I think legalising something that we can't completely stamp out is the worst possible solution. And by the way, the Czech Republic is still signatory to an international convention against prostitution. So I think the government's decision is scandalous."
Many of his Christian Democrat colleagues will agree with him, so the senior coalition party, the Social Democrats, will need to find support from the opposition to push the bill through the lower house. The opposition Civic Democrats have already criticised the proposals, with one senior member saying the state would effectively become a pimp. Expect a lively debate when the bill is finally submitted to parliament.
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