PARIS - French lawmakers on Saturday adopted a highly controversial provision in a bill that punishes clients of prostitutes amid fierce argument that the new measure will be counterproductive.
Under the new provision, buying sex acts will be punishable by a 1,500-euro (S$2560) fine. Repeat offenders risk a fine of 3,750 euros. Alternatively, a course will be proposed to make them aware of the risks involved in the sale of sex.
Dozens rallied both for and against the bill as debate began in the lower house, the National Assembly, which is expected to vote on the sex bill's other provisions on Wednesday.
Prostitution is allowed in France, but soliciting, pimping, and the sale of sex by minors are prohibited.
The government says the bill is aimed at preventing violence against women and protecting the large majority of prostitutes who are victims of trafficking gangs.
But critics warn that it would force sex workers further underground and put them in greater danger, and some argue that everyone should be allowed to use their own body as they see fit.
Kicking off the debate, Maud Olivier, one of the lawmakers spearheading the bill, blasted the "hypocrisy" of critics.
"One prostitute declares herself free and the slavery of others becomes respectable and acceptable?" the socialist MP asked parliament.
"How can you find glamorous the 10 to 15 penetrations a day endured by prostitutes for economic reasons with dramatic consequences on their health?"
Women's Rights Minister and government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem told lawmakers "France is not a country that welcomes prostitution".
"The question is not sexuality. We are not here to be a moral police... the question is about money that feeds pimping," she said.