[WATCH] Government studying Nordic prostitution model, Owen Bonnici discloses

A clear distinction to be made between those that choose to get into prostitution and those that are coerced into it, says Minister

The Nordic model decriminalises the seller and punishes buyers of sex (File Photo)
The Nordic model decriminalises the seller and punishes buyers of sex (File Photo)

Government is studying the Swedish model for regulating prostitution and has held talks with experts, Equality Minister Owen Bonnici disclosed on Friday.

“We held discussion with experts and are looking at the Swedish model. We are committed to proceed with discussions and then propose our ideas,” Bonnici said.

The Swedish model, often referred to as the Nordic model, decriminalises the seller and punishes buyers of sex.

Earlier in the year, a coalition of women’s groups and gender experts had called on former junior minister Rosianne Cutajar to adopt the model as government considered reforms in the sex work industry. The more than 40 NGOs feared that any move to legalise prostitution would simply strengthen pimps and leave vulnerable women open for exploitation.

However, the Nordic model also has its critics, who insist that criminalising the buyer will only send the industry further underground to the detriment of prostitutes.

Gay rights NGOs like MGRM and ARC, and human rights groups like Aditus and Integra have suggested that sex work should not be exclusively conflated with sex trafficking, adopting a more nuanced approach to the prostitution reform.

Bonnici said that the prostitution reform is at the final stage of drafting. "There are those that say that people get into prostitution voluntarily and another section that states that those that get into prostitution are coerced – forced to get into prostitution. A clear distinction should be made." 

Bonnici said that he won't commit himself to a time frame for the legislation to be published but said that he will listen to the people and that internal discussions will be held. 

Budget allocated a 40% increase in funding

In a press conference on the budget allotted to his ministry for next year, Bonnici said that after a delicate period, the budget offered a forward-looking direction in areas related to research and innovation.

He said that the research and innovation sector has seen a 40% increase in funding that will be allocated to the 22 projects that the ministry will be working on. 

He mentioned a domestic violence campaign, that “focuses on the issue of sexualisation and objectification of women in society”. Bonnici also stated that a research on children who are victims of domestic violence and other abuse is underway. 

A research on the discrimination of LGBTIQ people will also be conducted and plans are underway for the creation of a hub which would offer facilities and services to LGBTIQ people. 

Bonnici mentioned the cannabis reform and said that, “the legal framework for the reform has been published and after the budget, the discussion could start in parliament that paves the way to legislation”. He stressed on the need for continued education on substance abuse.

Other projects include awareness campaigns on human trafficking and equality between sexes that push for integration in all sectors. 

He also mentioned the ministry is working with voluntary organisation to tackle and formulate a national post COVID plan to offer help to those most negatively impacted by the pandemic.  

Bonnici explained that another project will inject more resources for the training of vulnerable people including those with disabilities on digital services. 

“Those are sectors that are key tools that will strengthen our country. We believe that equality, research and innovation are crucial for economic growth,” Bonnici concluded.