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The laws concerning prostitution vary considerably around the world. In some jurisdictions prostitution is illegal. In other places prostitution itself (exchanging sex for money) is legal, but most surrounding activities (such as soliciting in a public place, operating a brothel and other forms of pimping) are illegal, often making it very difficult to engage in prostitution without breaking any law. In a few jurisdictions prostitution is legal and regulated.

Moral opposition (and legal prohibition) of prostitution come from two different sides: conservative and religious values associated with right wing politics and feminist values associated with left wing politics.

Prostitution plays a different role in each country today.



Prostitution is illegal in most countries in Africa. Nevertheless, it is common, driven by the widespread poverty in many sub-Saharan African countries[1], and is one of the drivers for the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Africa.[2] Social breakdown and poverty caused by civil war in several African countries has caused further increases in the rate of prostitution in those countries. For these reasons, some African countries have also become destinations for sex tourism.

AIDS infection rates are particularly high among African sex workers.[citation needed] Long distance truck drivers have been identified as a group with the high-risk behaviour of sleeping with prostitutes and a tendency to spread the infection along trade routes in the region. Infection rates of up to 33% were observed in this group in the late 1980s in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.


In Asia, the main characteristic of the region is the very big discrepancy between the laws which exist on the books and what occurs in practice. For example, in Thailand prostitution is illegal,[3] but in practice it is tolerated and regulated, and the country is a destination for sex tourism. Such situations are common in many Asian countries. In these countries there is a very strong double standard: while it is considered acceptable for men to use the services of the prostitutes, the prostitutes themselves are stigmatized by the whole society, as "respectable" women are expected to refrain from sexual activity until marriage.

Child prostitution is a serious problem in this region. Past surveys indicate that 30 to 35 percent of all prostitutes in the Mekong sub-region of Southeast Asia are between 12 and 17 years of age.[4]


     Prostitution legal and regulated      Prostitution (the exchange of sex for money) legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal, prostitution is not regulated      Prostitution illegal      No data

The most common legal system in the European Union is that which allows prostitution itself (the exchange of sex for money) but prohibits the associated activities (brothels, pimping etc) in an attempt to make it more difficult to engage in prostitution.

In Sweden, Norway and Iceland it is illegal to pay for sex (the client commits a crime, but not the prostitute). The reason for this law is the belief that prostitution is a form of exploitation of women and male dominance over women, and also the need to prevent human trafficking and crime.

In 1999, Sweden become the first country in the world to make it a crime to pay for sex, but not to be a prostitute. The law attracted international attention and became known as "the Swedish model". A similar law was passed in Norway (in 2009) and in Iceland (in 2009).

In Netherlands, prostitution is legal, regulated, accepted by society and very common (in 2003 it was estimated that in Amsterdam, one woman in 35 was working as a prostitute, compared to one in 300 in London[5]). The majority of these women are foreigners.

The enforcement of the anti-prostitution laws varies by country, One example is Belgium, where brothels (and pimping) are illegal, but in practice they are tolerated, operate quite openely and in some parts of the country the situation is similar with that from neighboring Netherlands.

Prostitution is illegal in most of the ex-communist countries of Eastern Europe. Here prostitution was outlawed by the former communist regimes and these countries chose to keep it illegal even after the fall of the communists.

North America

     Prostitution legal and regulated      Prostitution (the exchange of sex for money) legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal, prostitution is not regulated      Prostitution illegal (except in some rural counties of the US state of Nevada)      No data

United States

Prostitution laws in the United States are determined at the state level. The practice is illegal in all but one of its 50 states.

Nevada is the only US state which allows some legal prostitution in some of its counties. Currently 8 out of Nevada's 16 counties have active brothels. Prostitution outside these brothels is illegal throughout the state; prostitution is illegal in the major metropolitan areas (Las Vegas, Reno, and Carson City). Prostitution is heavily regulated by the state of Nevada. See Prostitution in Nevada.

Prostitution in Rhode Island was outlawed in 2009. See Prostitution in Rhode Island.


South America

     Prostitution legal and regulated      Prostitution (the exchange of sex for money) legal, but organized activities such as brothels and pimping are illegal, prostitution is not regulated      Prostitution illegal      No data


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