Swiss decriminalize child prostitution, child victims left vulnerable

Hundreds of people are participating in a campaign to vote in favor of keeping child prostitution a crime.

Covid, a synthetic drug that is about the size of the equal parts of half a lemon, has been linked to an increase in reported incidents of child prostitution in Switzerland. During an international conference last year, about 3,000 sex trafficking suspects traveled to Switzerland to buy the drug. This year, officials in Switzerland say they are investigating 50 cases of suspected child prostitution, about 100 percent more than the last two years combined.

One of the campaigners in favor of keeping the drug crimes a crime says that children are only caught using drugs because their parents or caregivers might want to save them. Meanwhile, the drug was banned in England by the government in 2004 for being a precursor to the manufacture of methamphetamine, which is considered the most harmful substance in the world for children.

The meeting comes amid Switzerland’s debate on an old law. As part of the package that formed Switzerland’s Geneva Conventions, the age of criminality in Switzerland can be set at 18 for prostitution, or 14 if the criminal is a relative or caregiver. This has held since 1949, but it is up for debate.

Sig Cornelius, the president of For Switzerland Against Crimes Against Children, has been working with current Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga on an initiative to keep children from being prosecuted for prostitution.

“The concern is that at any time there could be a child in the society who goes out at night and finds the kind of company she or he needs to use drugs. We must also avoid situations where a child could easily lead an unhealthy lifestyle, including drug-use, and be given unlimited influence from their adult relatives who operate in the same area, which could be dangerous to a child who really doesn’t want to take drugs,” Cornelius told Swiss public radio.

Some are looking to Canada and the Netherlands for guidance. The Canadians have classified children involved in prostitution as “welfare cases,” placing the responsibility of the child’s case with state bureaucrats.

“It may be very clear to the law that a child who is at risk of harming themselves or harming others is a welfare case,” Cornelia Richard, a lawyer for the attorney general in Canada, said at a legal conference.

The Dutch authorities too try to remove the adult caregiver from the equation. They enacted laws with the idea that decriminalizing child prostitution would remove a major reason that certain trafficked children wound up living on the streets of Amsterdam. The Dutch set a minimum age of 14, but former foster children are considered to be adults.

Now, such a broad approach makes it nearly impossible to prevent child prostitution, according to the Human Rights Commission in Paris. Advocates say the tactic might be justified with serious crimes like rape, but considering the growing number of sex workers in Germany and France, it is not in the spirit of protecting children.

“Their civil rights and legal rights, their liberty, their social protection, the concern for their wellbeing, also deserve to be taken into account,” Isabelle Poye, the Commission’s rapporteur, said at a two-day conference on the “pardon” of prostitution.

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