OSLO (Reuters) - The Norwegian government proposed on Friday to fine or jail clients of prostitutes for up to six months in a bid to stamp out human trafficking, and said the law would also apply to its citizens abroad.
Norway signalled in mid-2007 that it would make it a criminal offence to buy services from prostitutes, following the example of Scandinavian neighbour Sweden which introduced a similar ban in 1999.
The amendment will now be put to parliament for approval and if passed will take effect in January 2008, officials said.
“People are not merchandise, and criminalising the purchase of sexual services will make it less attractive for human traffickers to look to Norway,” Justice Minister Knut Storberget said in a statement.
Prostitution is allowed in Norway although procuring, or “pimping,” is illegal. A rise in street prostitution in the capital, Oslo, in recent years has triggered calls for a ban.
Proponents of the measure say it makes sense to try to stop prostitution by punishing those who use the service rather than the women themselves, who are often poor, young immigrants.
“The goal is that the ban should contribute to ... reducing demand and thereby give a lesser market for human trafficking,” Storberget said.
Opponents of the ban say it will jeopardise women in the trade by driving prostitution underground where they will be even more vulnerable.
“Criminalisation shall not lead to a worse situation for the prostitutes,” Storberget said, adding that the government had taken other steps to get prostitutes out of the business.
The justice ministry said the punishment could be fines on rising scale according to the offender’s financial means or a jail term of up to six months, or both.
Jail sentences of a year could be imposed in aggravated cases involving adult prostitution and of up to three years where child prostitutes are involved, the ministry said.