A debate over how to reform Malta's prostitution laws rages on despite the bill outlining the proposed reforms still awaiting publication.  

This week, two groups of NGOs have argued over whether to fully decriminalise sex work - or to instead make the sale of sex legal but target the buyers. 

Rosianne Cutajar was spearheading the reform but has temporarily resigned over her links to Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.

She has previously indicated her support for full decriminalisation and in the summer a report on the reform was finalised but has yet to be presented to parliament. 

Currently, prostitution in the form of an agreement between two people that includes the exchange of money and takes place in a private place is not a crime.However, loitering, soliciting in public and living off the proceeds of prostitution is illegal.

The MP has previously indicated she wants full decriminalisation of prostitution, including for clients of sex workers.

On Tuesday, an international union of eight NGOs representing sex workers, gay rights organisations and anti-human trafficking groups said it 'wholeheartedly' backed the government's plans to fully decriminalise sex work. 

But hitting back at the international union, the Coalition on Human Trafficking and Prostitution, which represents 46 groups in Malta hit back, highlighting that the union did not include women's groups.  

It said the overwhelming majority of people in prostitution in Malta are women trafficked to the island for the purpose of sexual exploitation. 

Division over the Nordic model

On Tuesday, the international group representing sex workers said their research showed the Nordic, or Swedish model, which criminalises clients, had a negative impact. 

They said this model - currently in place in Sweden, Norway, France, Canada, Israel, Ireland, and Northern Ireland, made sex workers more vulnerable to violence and infectious diseases. 

“The evidence is clear: only decriminalisation of sex work will protect the well being and dignity of sex workers."

However, the local coalition disagrees. It said this model offers the best protection to people in prostitution as it shifts the power from the buyer to the seller in deciding when to report abuse. 

 The coalition said that studies show that in countries where prostitution has been decriminalised, the sex industry expanded and this increased competition, lower prices and more risk-taking by those involved. This also led to increased sex trafficking, it said.
“Claiming that the Nordic model leads to more infectious diseases and that it will lower access to legal protection is a myth and there is no evidence to support this claim,” the coalition insisted.

It added that to avoid people becoming vulnerable to grooming for exploitation, Malta must ensure that every individual has real opportunities and choice of careers, free of discrimination.  “We must remove the hurdles rather than legalise exploitative work which only benefits pimps and traffickers,” it said.

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