Ahead of elections, Prague authorities make fresh move to control prostitution

A month ahead of local elections, Prague officials have revived efforts to legalize prostitution. City Hall has come up with a bill that would grant prostitutes the status of self-employed workers, and give the authorities the power to regulate the oldest profession. But passing the bill would require the Czech Republic to pull out of a convention on human trafficking, a move rejected by MPs in the past.

Czech law does not recognize prostitution, though that of course does not mean prostitution does not exist in the Czech Republic. The authorities in the capital Prague have been grappling with the issue for years, but several initiatives aimed at controlling the sex industry have come to nothing.

Now, with municipal elections looming, Prague City Hall has come up with a bill that would legalize prostitution. If passed, sex workers would have to get business licences and undergo regular check-ups. Rudolf Blažek is deputy mayor of Prague for the Civic Democrats.

Rudolf Blažek,  photo: Kristýna Maková
“We want to get a tool to deal not only with street prostitution, but mainly with the large number of brothels in city centre. There are 20 of them just off Wenceslas Square. We want to distinguish between legal and illegal prostitution, and to be able to better protect people from abuse and trafficking. We have been trying to do something about it for the last 10 or 12 years and we believe we cannot move on without new legislation.”

City officials will now send the bill to the lower house of the country’s Parliament. However, Prague produced a similar version of the bill in 2008, and it went nowhere. To enter into force, the bill would require the Czech Republic to pull out of a 1950 international convention against human trafficking, a move MPs rejected only two years ago. Opposition members of the city council say the same thing is likely to happen again.

Other critics say the bill introduces too much repression against sex workers, who would in any case be unlikely to declare themselves prostitutes. Hana Malinová is the head of the Czech NGO Bliss without Risk, which has been working with prostitutes since 1992.

“We are in an economic crisis, and so is the sex business. The number of sex workers is decreasing. That’s the first thing. Secondly, I don’t understand why it does not introduce regular trade licences for sex workers; there are so many controls, and it gives big power to the police. If it should really work, it would have to be a bit freer and more democratic. Behind it I feel big aggression against sex workers.”

Malinová also says the proposed bill would in fact mean less protection for prostitutes – and fails to take into account the concerns of sex workers themselves.