The UN Convention of 1949
The convention describes procedures for combating international traffic for the purpose of prostitution. In the meantime, it has been ratified by many countries, but some have declined to join. (For details, click on logo.)
As early as 1949, the United Nations General Assemby passed a convention aimed at ending the exploitation of persons for the purpose of prostitution. This document requires, among other things, that all signatory nations punish pimps and brothel owners and abolish the registration of prostitutes. Apparently, however, some of these demands did not meet with universal approval. Some countries refused to sign and reserved the right to pursue their own, very different policies. Indeed, in 1979, the UN implicitly seemed to support the decriminalization of prostitution when it passed a Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
In the Netherlands, for example, prostitution is a legal profession. Prostitutes are usually self-employed and pay income tax. They are not registered and are not required to undergo regular health checks. The minimum age for prostitutes is 18, that for their customers 16.
Several other countries have not gone that far, but have also adopted rather liberal policies ranging from decriminalization to various forms of regulation. Here are a few examples: Germany, Switzerland, Spain, France, Italy, Ireland, Denmark, Belgium, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Canada, Costa Rica, Brazil, New Zealand, and some states of Australia. Japan prohibits only some forms of prostitution. Regulation has been adopted in the US state of Nevada.
This list is neither complete nor can it provide an accurate picture. First of all, even where prostitution as such is legal, many activities surrounding it may not be (advertising, “solicitation”, “streetwalking”, pimping, running a brothel etc.) Moreover, the exact wording of the respective laws varies from one country to another, and there are often disputes about what is legal or not. Finally, there are also great differences in the enforcement of the laws.