As Spain heads towards banning sex work, other countries around the world have opted for a different approach to regulating – or criminalising – the profession.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has vowed to criminalise sex work in the country after saying it “enslaves” women.

However, Fuensanta Gual, president of Spanish charity Committee to Support Sex Workers (CATS), told i that Mr Sanchez was confusing voluntary sex work with trafficking, arguing that “it is not the same”.

“They want to believe that women do it because they have a pimp who forces them to do so,” she said. “Some of them do, but most of them not.

“The reason why most women do sex work is because they have no other labour options, or because the other options available to them are worse.”

(Image: inews)

She said that even if it was banned, sex workers will continue working but under “more hard and dangerous conditions”.

“They will be driven further underground and many will end up working in the street or with pimps,” she added.

“They will also avoid going to to the police if they are victims of crime.”

She urged the Spanish government to ensure the voices of sex workers are heard before any political decision is made.

In some countries in Africa, Asia and South America, sex workers are mostly poor women and girls who sell sex primarily in order to support their family.

Human rights groups have called for sex work to be decriminalised around the world, which they argue would protect the rights of sex workers through workplace health and safety standards.

In countries such as New Zealand, advocates say that decriminalising the practice has meant sex workers are more likely to live without stigma, social exclusion and fear of violence.

Here are the laws on sex work in different parts of the world:

Europe

Sex work was decriminalised in Spain in 1995, removing the threat of punishment for those who offered paid sexual services as long as it was not in a public place.

While not illegal, sex work is unregulated and exploitation such as pimping and brokering for paid sex is unlawful.

The sex industry in Spain is reportedly worth €3.7bn (£3.1bn), and a 2009 study by the state-owned Social Investigations Centre found one in three Spanish men had paid for sex.

Brothel windows in the red light district in Amsterdam (Photo: George Pachantouris/Getty)

In the Netherlands, where sex work is legal and regulated, the world-famous red light districts in Amsterdam reportedly see around 200,000 visitors a year.

About 375 sex workers are based in the red light districts, including in De Wallen, the largest and oldest in the city with 225 brothel windows divided over 17 alleys and streets.

There are around 72,800 sex workers in the UK, 88 per cent of whom are women.

Sex work is legal in England, Wales and Scotland but soliciting in a public place, kerb crawling and running a brothel are banned. In Northern Ireland, paying for sex became illegal in 2015.

Americas

Sex work is largely banned in the US and laws vary from state to state.

Sex work is only legal in some form in the state of Nevada, where sex workers are permitted to work in licensed brothels in 10 of the state’s 16 counties that have populations below 700,000.

They are also required to undergo regular testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

A billboard in Nevada advertising a brothel (Photo: Russell Monk/ Getty Images)

Costa Rica, where sex work is legal, has become a popular sex tourism destination, with the local media website Q Costa Rica describing it as a “Disneyland of Sex”.

Sex workers who register with the Costa Rican social security fund are offered a free medical exam every 15 days.

In Nicaragua, sex work is legal but promotion and procurement is prohibited by law. It is legal for those aged 14 years of age or older to engage in sex work, according to US State Department human rights report, leading to children being exploited in the sex industry, particularly in child sex tourism.

In a 2017 report, the US embassy in Nicaragua said: “Authorities did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any tourists for the purchase of commercial sex acts from children, although NGOs report that child sex tourism continues to be an issue in the country.”

Asia and the Pacific

Sex work is legal and regulated in Bangladesh, with the country’s biggest brothel in Daulatdia, thought to be one of the largest in the world, home to nearly 2,000 sex workers who are visited by 3,000 men a day.

Sex workers must register and sign an affidavit stating they are unable to find other work and are exercising free choice. Registration provides them with some security benefits and protection from police harassment, but they do not have access to health benefits.

The red light district of Patpong in Bangkok (
Photo: Massimo Borchi/Getty Images)

While sex work is illegal in Thailand it is widely practised. There are an estimated 43,000 sex workers in the country.

Districts such as Patpong in the capital Bangkok promote the sex industry with brothels, sex shows, bar girls and porn shops – mainly aimed at tourists.

Asia’s largest red light area is located in India, in Sonagachi, Kolkata, where an estimated 7,000 people work in several hundred multi-storey brothels.

Soi Cowboy street in Bangkok where tourists visit go-go bars (Photo: Massimo Borchi/Getty Images)

According to Indian law, sex workers can practise their trade privately but cannot legally solicit customers in public. While sex work is legal, a multitude of activities surrounding it such as brothels, kerb-crawling and pimping are illegal.

Despite the existence of red light districts in cities, laws in India governing sex workers are somewhat vague.

In 2003, sex work was fully decriminalised in New Zealand, allowing all kinds of sex work, including street soliciting and brothels, to exist legally.

New Zealand has been hailed as an example of how sex work can be successfully regulated and workers’ rights guaranteed through employment and human rights legislation.

Africa

Senegal is the only African country where sex work is legal and regulated.

Under Senegal law, sex workers must be over 21 years old, register with the police, carry a valid health card and test negative for sexually transmitted diseases.

In South Africa, selling sex has been illegal since at least the early 1900s and buying sex was criminalised in 2007, according to the Human Rights Watch.

Laws in South Africa also prohibit other aspects of sex work, including running or owning a brothel, living off the earnings of “prostitution” and enticing a woman into offering sex for money.

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