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July 16, 2002 12:38pm
Italian Parliament Proposes Opening Brothels
Source: AP
by: Peter W. Mayer

(ROME ITALY) -- With thousands of prostitutes, mainly from Eastern Europe and Africa, plying their trade on Italy's streets, a parliamentary commission began hearings Tuesday on a proposal to reopen brothels - some 44 years after they were shut down.

The proposal drafted by a lawmaker in Premier Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party was presented before the Justice Commission of the Chamber of Deputies, a parliament spokesman, Stefano Conti, said.

Besides the reopening of brothels, the proposal calls for the registration of prostitutes, regular health controls and taxation of their incomes.

But the plan is threatening to spark a row within Berlusconi's conservative government.

Equal Opportunities Minister, Stefania Prestigiacomo, a Forza Italia member, has distanced herself from it, her spokesman, Salvatore Bianca, told the Associated press.

"It doesn't reflect either the policy of Forza Italia or the government, and Minister Prestigiacomo has said she doesn't like it," he said.

Prostitutes, according to the proposal, would be registered and, after passing medical check-ups receive certificates from authorities which would allow them to sell sexual services from private homes.

The brothels - hosting a maximum of three prostitutes - would have to keep financial records for tax purposes. Minors would be banned from living in the homes, and people with sexually transmittable diseases would not be given licenses to work as prostitutes.

"The minister is against the concept of registration because it implies that prostitution would become a form of employment like any other which is regulated by the state," Bianca said.

Under the plan, people found guilty of selling sex in the streets would face up to three years in jail while their clients could be fined up to 3,000 euro (dlrs 3,011).

Prestigiacomo considers these penalties "disproportionate," as they are harsher on the prostitute than on the client, Bianca said.

But some in the ruling coalition welcomed the proposal.

Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and a member of parliament for the National Alliance party, described it as being "possibly a good law."

"I just hope that Parliament's work will not be impeded by the crusading spirit of false moralism and hypocrisy that tends to keep hidden a social reality which absolutely needs to be regulated by a new and modern law," Mussolini was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

Prostitution is not a crime in Italy, but exploiting prostitutes is and represents one of the most lucrative activities of criminal organizations.

According to most official estimates, there are at least 50,000 women on the streets, most from eastern Europe and Africa, especially Nigeria. The women - many of whom are underage - are usually forced to sell their services along city streets and highways by gangs which take a large share of their earnings.

Brothels, once state-sanctioned, were outlawed in Italy in 1958.

Authorities in Venice earlier this year started confining the sex trade to special zones in the lagoon city's mainland area to keep it away from tourist areas.

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