Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is to proceed with plans to criminalise people who pay for sex, despite calls by Amnesty International for all aspects of sex work to be decriminalised.
However, a spokesman for the minister did point out the forthcoming Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill would be “substantially discussed” in the Oireachtas.
In a statement to the Irish Examiner, the spokesman said Ms Fitzgerald expected “all aspects of the debate” would be considered when the bill is introduced in the autumn. The department’s position, which also involves the decriminalisation of those selling sex, has been welcomed by Ruhama, an organisation working with women affected by prostitution.
Last Monday, Amnesty International voted for the decriminalisation of sex work, or prostitution — including those who buy sex.
The step was taken by up to 500 delegates who attended Amnesty International’s decision-making forum, the International Council Meeting, which was held in Dublin. The delegates adopted a resolution authorising the International Board of the human rights group to develop and adopt a policy on the issue.
Amnesty said the passing of the resolution was taken “to protect the human rights of sex workers”. In a statement it said: “The resolution recommends that Amnesty International develop a policy that supports the full decriminalisation of all aspects of consensual sex work.”
It said the move followed consultation over two years, which concluded decriminalisation was “the best way to defend sex workers’ human rights and lessen the risk of abuse and violations”.
Amnesty International said the consultation included sex worker groups; groups representing survivors of prostitution, and feminist and other women’s right organisations. Asked would the decision be taken into account in relation to the forthcoming Sexual Offences Bill, the Department of Justice signalled its intent to proceed with criminalising those who buy sex.
The spokesman said: “The proposals to criminalise the purchase of sexual services which will be included in the forthcoming Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill follow a consultation conducted by the Department of Justice and Equality in 2012 and a further consultation by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, the report from which recommended criminalising the purchase of sexual services (June 2013).”
He added: “The proposals are also in line with a Council of Europe report which concluded that criminalising the purchase of sexual services is the most effective tool for preventing and combating trafficking in human beings (March 2014).”
He said the proposals raised a wide spectrum of issues, which would be “substantially discussed” in the Oireachtas. “The minister expects that all aspects of the debate will be considered in the autumn,” he said.
Sarah Benson, Ruhama CEO, said: “We strongly welcome that and commend the minister for continuing with legislation that will criminalise the purchase of sex, which is based on strong evidence and a very robust process.” She said Ruhama was “saddened” by the approach taken by Amnesty, which she said “didn’t listen to numerous women’s organisations and sex survivor groups from across the world who opposed full decriminalisation of the sex trade”.
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