Paying for sex is set to become a criminal offence in Northern Ireland, following a landmark vote by the Stormont Assembly this week.
MLAs debated Lord Morrow’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill late into the night and voted to back the measures aimed at tightening laws on prostitution and human trafficking in the Province.
Assembly members voted 81 to 10 in favour of outlawing the purchase of consensual sex, making Northern Ireland the first part of the UK to criminalise demand to this extent.
The Bill also makes provisions for statutory victim care and child trafficking guardians, aimed at strengthening support services.
Lord Morrow believes the Bill is likely to become law by the middle of 2015.
Currently under the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008, paying for sexual services is only an offence if it can be proved that violence, threats, coercion or deception have been used.
Certain other activities such as running a brothel and kerb-crawling are also illegal.
Dan Boucher of Christian charity CARE said the development was of “seminal significance”.
“Criminalising paying for sex provides the most effective means of addressing that demand head on and has been very successful in Sweden, Norway and Iceland”, he commented.
Louise Gleich, CARE’s Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Officer, said: “This has been a great day in the advance of better human trafficking and exploitation legislation in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has set the pace. It is now for England, Wales and Scotland to try to catch up.”
Last week CARE released figures revealing overwhelming support for criminalising the purchase of sex.
The Northern Irish Ipsos MORI poll found that 78 per cent of those questioned thought that the buying of sex should be banned.
In February the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) announced it no longer opposed plans to criminalise the purchase of sex, having previously been against the move.
Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris, speaking to Stormont’s Justice Committee, said the PSNI had changed its view after listening to evidence from domestic violence charities and other non-governmental organisations.