Texts of the United Nations

1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, which has been adopted by the UN General Assembly (the same GA who adopted the Universal Declaration for Human Rights), and the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

The 1949 Convention states: “Prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person” (Preamble).

The Convention calls member parties to support persons in prostitution by suppressing any criminalisation against them, and criminalise all forms of pimping:

Article 1: Punishment for any person who “procures, entices, or leads away, for purposes of prostitution, another person”, or “exploits the prostitution of another person”, event with the consent of that person.

Article 2: Punishment for any person who “keeps or manages, or knowingly finances or takes part in the financing of a brothel” and “knowingly lets or rents a building or other place or any part thereof for the purpose of the prostitution of others”.
Article 6: “Each Party to the present Convention agrees to take all the necessary measures to repeal or abolish any existing law, regulation or administrative provision by virtue of which persons who engage in or are suspected of engaging in prostitution are subject either to special registration or to the possession of a special document or to any exceptional requirements for supervision or notification.”

The 1979 Convention, Article 6 states: “States parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women.”

The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child
Article 34: “States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse”.
Article 35: “States Parties shall take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.”

1992 CEDAW General Recommendation No. 19 on Violence against Women
Comment on article 6 of the CEDAW Convention:
“Poverty and unemployment force many women, including young girls, into prostitution. Prostitutes are especially vulnerable to violence because their status, which may be unlawful, tends to marginalize them. They need the equal protection of laws against rape and other forms of violence.”

1994 Plan of Action for the Elimination of Harmful Traditional Practices affecting the Health of Women and Children
Violence against women and girl children (43-63)
“Violence against women and girl children is a global phenomenon which cuts across geographical, cultural and political boundaries and varies only in its manifestations and severity. Gender violence has existed from time immemorial and continues up to the present day. It takes covert and overt forms including physical and mental abuse. Violence against women, including female genital mutilation, wife-burning, dowry-related violence, rape, incest, wife battering, female foeticide and female infanticide, trafficking and prostitution, is a human rights violation and not only a moral issue. It has serious negative implications on the economic and social development of women and society, and is an expression of the societal gender subordination of women.”

2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (The Palermo Protocol)
Article 9:
“States Parties shall take or strengthen measures, including through bilateral or multilateral cooperation, to alleviate the factors that make persons, especially women and children, vulnerable to trafficking, such as poverty, underdevelopment and lack of equal opportunity.”
“States Parties shall adopt or strengthen legislative or other measures, such as educational, social or cultural measures, including through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking.”

The Palermo Protocol states that the “consent of a victim […] shall be irrelevant” where there is “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
I.e. consent cannot be bought or achieved through force – coerced consent is not consent

2006 Report of Sigma Huda, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children: “Integration of the Human Rights of Women and a Gender Perspective with a Special Focus on the Demand for Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking”

“For the most part, prostitution as actually practised in the world usually does satisfy the elements of trafficking. It is rare that one finds a case in which the path to prostitution and/or a person’s experiences within prostitution do not involve, at the very least, an abuse of power and/or an abuse of vulnerability. Power and vulnerability in this context must be understood to include power disparities based on gender, race, ethnicity and poverty. Put simply, the road to prostitution and life within “the life” is rarely one marked by empowerment or adequate options.”

“Thus, State parties with legalized prostitution industries have a heavy responsibility to ensure that the conditions which actually pertain to the practice of prostitution within their borders are free from the illicit means delineated in subparagraph (a) of the Protocol definition, so as to ensure that their legalized prostitution regimes are not simply perpetuating widespread and systematic trafficking. As current conditions throughout the world attest, States parties that maintain legalized prostitution are far from satisfying this obligation.”

Demand must be understood expansively, as any act that fosters any form of exploitation that, in turn, leads to trafficking.”

“While the human rights of women and children are violated in many forms of trafficking, sex trafficking is a particular form of trafficking in which the human rights of women and children are violated as women and children.”

“Unlike the purchaser of consumer goods produced through trafficked labour, the prostitute-user is simultaneously both the demand-creator and (by virtue of his receipt of the trafficked person) part of the trafficking chain.”

“The demand for commercial sex is often further grounded in social power disparities of race, nationality, caste and colour.”

“As a normative matter, it is clear that responsibility for the sex-trafficking market lies with prostitute-users, traffickers, and the economic, social, legal, political, institutional and cultural conditions which oppress women and children throughout the world. It would be a grave injustice to impute responsibility for driving the sex market to its victims themselves. Such a claim is tantamount to victim blaming, and constitutes a further violation of the human rights of trafficking victims.”

Texts of European Institutions

European Parliament Report of 17 January 2006 on strategies to prevent the trafficking of women and children who are vulner­able to sexual exploitation
“Whereas one of the principal preconditions for international trafficking in women and children is the existence of local prostitution markets where certain people can and wish to sell and buy women and children for the purpose of exploiting them sexually; whereas traffickers in human beings mainly send women and children from countries in the south to countries in the north and from east to west, where demand from purchasers is strongest”
“Regrets the lack of any analysis of the demand for prostitution in the Member States as a possible motivation for the phenomenon of trafficking; considers that the Commission should carry out a comprehensive study on the impact of the Member States’ legislation on prostitution on the number of victims of trafficking”.

European Parliament resolution of 26 November 2009 on the elimination of violence against women

“Whereas the tolerance of prostitution in Europe leads to an increase in trafficking of women into Europe for sexual purposes, and to sex tourism

European Parliament resolution of 26 February 2014 on Prostitution, sexual exploitation and their impact on gender equality (Honeyball Resolution)
“Recognises that prostitution, forced prostitution and sexual exploitation are highly gendered issues and violations of human dignity, contrary to human rights principles, among which gender equality, and therefore contrary to the principles of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, including the goal and the principle of gender equality”.

“Stresses that there are several links between prostitution and trafficking, and recognises that prostitution – both globally and across Europe – feeds the trafficking of vulnerable women and under-age females, a large percentage of whom are between 13-25 years old; stresses that, as shown by data from the Commission, a majority of victims (62 %) are trafficked for sexual exploitation, with women and under-age females accounting for 96 % of identified and presumed victims, with the percentage of victims from non-EU countries showing an increase in the past few years”.

One way of combating the trafficking of women and under-age females for sexual exploitation and improving gender equality is the model implemented in Sweden, Iceland and Norway (the so-called Nordic model), and currently under consideration in several European countries, where the purchase of sexual services constitutes the criminal act, not the services of the prostituted persons”.

2014 Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly resolution of 8 April 2014 on Prostitution, trafficking and modern slavery in Europe
The Assembly calls on Council of Europe member and observer States, Parliamentary Assembly observer States and partners for democracy, to:

As regards policies on prostitution:

consider criminalising the purchase of sexual services, based on the Swedish model, as the most effective tool for preventing and combating trafficking in human beings;
– ban the advertising of sexual services, including forms of disguised advertising;
– criminalise pimping, if they have not already done so;
– establish counselling centres providing prostitutes with legal and health assistance, irrespective of their legal or migrant status;
set up “exit programmes” for those who wish to give up prostitution, aimed at rehabilitation and based on a holistic approach including mental health and health-care services, housing support, education and training and employment services;

As regards awareness raising, information and training:
– increase awareness through the media and school education, particularly among children and young people, with regard to respectful, gender-equal and violence-free sexuality;
raise awareness of the link between prostitution and human trafficking by means of information campaigns targeting the general public, civil society and education institutions.

Texts of African Institutions

Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol)
“States Parties shall prohibit and condemn all forms of harmful practices which negatively affect the human rights of women and which are contrary to recognised international standards. States Parties shall take all necessary legislative and other measures to eliminate such practices.”

Violence against women’ means all acts perpetrated against women which cause or could cause them physical, sexual, psychological, and economic harm, including the threat to take such acts; or to undertake the imposition of arbitrary restrictions on or deprivation of fundamental freedoms in private or public life in peace time and during situations of armed conflicts or of war.”