Switzerland's Sixteen-Year-Old Prostitute Problem
Op-Ed: Switzerland is the only European country where girls are allowed to work as prostitutes beginning at age 16. That’s a reasonable age of sexual consent. But for sex workers, Switzerland lives in sin until it raises the minimum age for prostitution t
ZURICH -- About a year ago, I drove with a Zurich police patrol through the red light district to try and get a better picture of the scene. I'm still haunted by the memories of the very young girls. They could hardly speak a word of German and they were selling their bodies. Their pimps stood not far away, waiting to take the money they earned.
Switzerland is the only European country where 16-year-olds are allowed to prostitute themselves. This is repugnant and incomprehensible. It makes Switzerland a destination for sex tourists with a penchant for children. Some Swiss "escort agencies' highlight the fact that they offer underage girls.
That's why, together with another member of parliament, Luc Barthassat, we're pushing not only for the minimum age for prostitutes to be changed to 18, but for the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. Although Switzerland is a signatory to the convention, we have yet to adjust our laws.
"Choosing" to enter the sex trade
The Swiss Federal Council is now working on this. Reactions have been many and varied – much outrage, but also some supporters of the status quo. The latter point out that the overall sexual age of consent in Switzerland is 16. It makes sense, therefore, that prostitutes can also be 16, they argue.
But there is a difference between engaging in sex and selling one's body. Sex is important for healthy physical and psychological development. Prostitution damages body and soul and hinders healthy development. It's also a job – and labor laws often make special provisions to protect young people.
Another argument is that girls choose to go into prostitution and should, therefore, be allowed to decide for themselves whether they want to start at 16 or 17. But puberty is a phase of life marked by feelings of personal insecurity and high vulnerability to outside pressures. What's more, girls may have a completely erroneous idea of what prostitution is all about, or be curious about it without being able to gauge the consequences on their own life.
On top of all that, in many cases teenagers go into prostitution because they desperately need the money. That's hardly a situation conducive to making "free choices."
Read the original story in German
Photo - facemepls
* Chantal Galladé is a teacher and Socialist member of the Swiss parliament