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Bulgaria: Before voting against legalization, society should hear the opposite view

Capital, the leading national Bulgarian weekly recently published an article that comments on the policy change that took place in Bulgaria in the end of last year.


The President of Bulgaria, the State Prosecutor, the Minister of Interior and the Minister of Justice were all among the participants of the conference on the issues of the trafficking of women, held in Sofia in October 2007. At the conference, they said “No” to the pending legislative changes that proposed decriminalization of prostitution in Bulgaria. That came as a surprise because there was no discussion about the proposal - there were no advocates of a different opinion. The participants of the conference were mainly American lecturers advocating for the Swedish model as a reaction against trafficking.


The author of the article briefly explains the abolitionists’ point of view about sex work and free choice because that was the position of the lecturers. But she says that before “voting” against the legalization the society should have been informed about the opposite points of view.


She says: “To put a sign of equality between trafficking and prostitution is not in the interest neither of sex workers, many of whom do not want to be treated like victims, nor of the trafficking victims, which have an interest in legalization of their rights regarding labor migration”.


The author maintains that prostitution and trafficking of human beings are two different social phenomena and they need different legal approaches. She underlines that the problem with the trafficking is more complex and dynamic, because it affects people (women, men and children), exploited in various economical spheres (agricultural work, domestic work, etc). The number of those people is bigger than the number of the women (and men) exploited in the migrational prostitution.


The author makes analysis of the situation in Germany and Sweden and concludes that the Swedish legislation has made the sex business more hidden and has sent it deeper underground. It also makes the situation for the victims of trafficking worse because they become harder to reach. Hard data show that the effect of the law in Sweden is an increase of the number of the customers looking for sex services in the neighboring countries (Baltic Republics, Finland and Denmark).


The article concludes with: “If we should make a conclusion, we should say that the issues of the legal status of the prostitution and the trafficking phenomenon are not related directly. In the reality the debate about the connection between the prostitution and the trafficking diverts the public attention from the real needs and the rights of the involved persons. It serves to different interests. Even more-this debate generalizes the experience of the trafficking women and the sex workers and allows use of same policies and solutions for different persons with different stories”.


* The author is an expert in the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Germany

SWAN News note: The conference entitled Legal and Institutional Mechanisms for Combating Trafficking of Women, organized by the Institute for Democracy and Stability in Southeast Europe and the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation, was addressed by the US Ambassador to Bulgaria who said that “Through the Department of Justice, the US Government has assisted Bulgaria in drafting its strong anti-trafficking legislative framework and training law enforcement officers how to implement it. The US Agency for International Development is cooperating with the International Organization for Migration in strengthening Bulgaria's institutional capacity to combat trafficking by supporting the National Anti-Trafficking Commission.”

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