New Zealand Legalizes Prostitution

Wellington, New Zealand, Jun. 25 ( - New Zealand’s Parliament on Wednesday passed a law decriminalizing prostitution despite efforts by pro-family and faith-based groups.

The Prostitution Reform Bill passed by a single vote after lawmakers were allowed a conscience vote that allowed them to choose for themselves rather than along party lines. The new law legalizes solicitation of prostitution for adults over 18. It also decriminalizes “pimping,” owning a brothel, and the earning of a living off of a prostitute. Prostitutes will now be covered by employment and health laws and brothels will have to be licensed.

Critics of the law said it will be inevitably cause damage to New Zealand. “We must judge this not on whether it is good for sex workers, but whether it is good for New Zealand society,” Nick Smith of the official opposition National Party told the legislature Wednesday. “Sex should not be for sale. Prostitution is nothing more than paid rape.”

While most women’s groups were split on whether to support a change in the law, with some arguing that decriminalization would provide protections for prostitutes, support for the measure came primarily from the Green Party, the Family Planning Association, and the Prostitutes Collective, a group representing women involved in prostitution.

Opposition mainly came from religious groups and conservative public policy organizations. Legislators who backed the law lashed out at churches for getting involved in the issue, calling them arrogant and ill-informed. Last week, the leaders of all the major Christian denominations in New Zealand—Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and Salvation Army—sent a letter to each MP, saying: “The normalizing of prostitution sends a message that the commercial selling of one’s body is an acceptable function in society and will draw many other young and vulnerable people into the business.”

Australia’s experience with decriminalizing prostitution may provide insight into the New Zealand’s future. When one Australian state legalized the activity in the 1990s, the number of illegal brothels exploded, organized crime controlled many of them, and prostitution grew rapidly, according to a study by Melbourne University.

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