Germany, where prostitution is legal, is toughening laws to protect the at least 400 000 women who practice the trade.
The government says this is in part because a liberal 2002 law improving their social security, pension and healthcare rights had failed to encourage many to give up the profession.
Family minister Ursula von der Leyen says the employment of prostitutes between 16 and 18 is the abuse of a position of force. “This is a legal loophole we want to close, and we want to make it clear prostitution is not allowed at all under the age of 18. Underage prostitutes are illegal”, she added.
It is a six billion euro a year industry, serving one point two million clients a day, and it is thought more than half are foreign without legal papers, and so unable to quit. Gisela Zohren runs the Dortmund Midnight Mission, which helps the most vulnerable:
“The immorality of the profession has been removed, prostitutes can now press charges for money owed to them, can get health insurance, pay into pension funds, and can draw up employment contracts with their employers”.
Extra measures to protect girls from violence or sex slavery are also being introduced.