The Northern Ireland Assembly recently voted by 81 to 10 in favour of making it a crime to pay for sex.
This is seen as a significant step towards curbing human trafficking and is fundamental to Lord Morrow’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill. Clause six of the bill makes it illegal for someone to obtain sexual services in exchange for payment. Northern Ireland is the first part of the UK to vote in favour of this measure.
Stormont’s justice minister, David Ford, leader of the cross-community Alliance party, opposed the clause. “It was not his business as a legislator to impose his religious opinions on a diverse society”, he insisted. He also claimed it would be difficult to enforce.
Research commissioned by the Department of Justice and published by Queen’s University in Belfast put the numbers of men who pay for sex in Northern Ireland every year at around 17,500.
In a rare example of agreement between the parties, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said it would accept some Sinn Féin amendments.
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton (DUP), whose department has responsibility for registering births, marriages and deaths, also proposed an amendment that would make it an offence for anyone to force someone else into marriage.
Outside the assembly on Monday, a group of sex workers wearing face masks made their opposition clear.
However, one trafficking victim rejected the argument that a ban would push sex workers further underground.
Meanwhile, another poll has indicated that almost 80% of people in Northern Ireland support the criminalisation of paying for sex.
The Ipsos Mori survey found support for the Human Trafficking Bill was strongest among people aged between16 to 34.
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