Where Is Prostitution Legal In The World?
Photo: KnowInsiders

Prostitution, a word that has been disregarded and looked down upon, for years now. But the harsh truth is, prostitution has always made its place in a country, regardless of its legal status due to abject poverty and unpredictable situations some people go through. Some countries prefer to completely prohibit it while others tend to provide social security benefits to sex workers and treat them on an equal pedestal just like other workers.

What Is Prostitution - The World's Oldest Profession

While prostitution, in reality, is probably not the oldest profession in the world—farmers, hunters, and shepherds were probably around first—the saying dates back to 1888 when Rudyard Kipling began a story about a prostitute with the sentence, “Lalun is a member of the most ancient profession in the world.” Regardless of its status as the “world’s oldest,” prostitution is most certainly one of the most controversial professions, as various cultures have drastically different opinions of sex workers.

Attitudes Change Over Time

Photo: Britannica
Photo: Britannica

Throughout history, civilizations have taken opposing views of prostitutes and the sex trade. In Ancient Greece, for example, prostitutes wore distinctive clothes, paid taxes, and many become very influential within that society. In Ancient Rome, prostitution was legal and widespread, with no attempt to hide such behaviors. During the Middle Ages, the institution was viewed as less than ideal but necessary to protect so-called “innocent” or “respectable” women from the sexual inclinations of medieval young men.

Following the Protestant Reformation and into the Victorian Era, however, social attitudes began to change, as prostitutes were blamed for outbreaks of sexually transmitted diseases and other maladies. This attitude began to take hold, and by the 20th Century, many countries and jurisdictions had begun to outlaw the practice.

Laws in Today’s World

Today, prostitution is illegal in much of the world. In countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, and Mexico, prostitution is legal and regulated by the government. In Brazil, India, and Great Britain, organized brothels are illegal but prostitution is legal. In some countries, it is the act of buying sex—not selling it—that is illegal, while both are illegal in the United States (except for Nevada).

There are also very real concerns regarding human trafficking. Many of the prostitutes in ancient cultures were orphaned children or captured slaves who had little choice regarding their role, but the idea of basic human rights was still taking shape. In many parts of the world today, little has changed in that regard, as young girls—and boys—are often forced into sex work against their will, sometimes after being kidnapped and taken to another country.

Various legal stances on prostitution

Similarly, the world's countries have adopted many different legal approaches regarding exactly which aspects of prostitution are legal or illegal and how best to regulate or eliminate the industry.

Prohibitionism - Prostitution is illegal (prohibited/criminalized) across the board. Selling, buying, organizing (via brothels, pimps, etc), and soliciting sex for money are all against the law. This approach is common in deeply religious countries, especially countries that outlaw pornography.

Neo-abolitionism - This philosophy considers prostitution to be violence against women. Selling sex is technically legal—but buying, organizing, and soliciting sex are all illegal. Prostitutes are considered legally blameless when caught in the act, but their clients and pimps (the prostitute's "organizer" or boss) are prosecuted. This "reverse loophole" is designed to suppress demand.

Abolitionism - The most prevalent approach worldwide. Selling sex and buying sex are both legal. However, in an effort to prevent exploitation of the sex worker, public solicitation; the operation of brothels; and forms of "organization" such as pimping, procuring, and forced prostitution are all usually prohibited.

Legalization - Selling, buying, and some forms of organizing (typically brothels) and soliciting of sex are legal. But they are also regulated, such as requiring prostitutes to register or only allowing prostitution in certain districts.

Decriminalization - Selling, buying, organizing, and solicitation of sex are all legal (or simply not addressed in the law at all) and are subject to minimal or no special regulations.

Some countries, such as Australia and the United States, state and local governments may have additional laws regarding prostitution.

It is important to note that a country's laws often fail to paint an accurate picture of the level of prostitution in that country.

For instance, sex workers in many neo-abolitionist countries have found loopholes that have enabled prostitution to thrive despite the seemingly strict laws—for example, prostitutes may offer a perfectly legal service, such as a dance session, that just happens to progress to a sex act as an off-the-clock bonus. Similarly, local law enforcement often takes an opposite stance on prostitution. Especially in tourist areas, local law enforcement is often tolerant of prostitution despite laws that prohibit it ... conversely, law enforcement personnel may harrass, shake down, or even abuse sex workers in countries that have legalized prostitution.

Amazing Facts About Prostitution in the World

1. Northern Ireland joins Sweden and others in banning the act of paying for sex— and there seems to be something to it.

2. In some countries the government pays for sexual surrogates

3. Prostitution is legal and regulated in 22 countries

4. There are about 40 million prostitutes working in the world

5. And about 2.5 million are trafficking victims

6. The average age to enter into prostitution is 13.

7. Estimates say 1 out of 10 men in the world have paid for sex

8. This means big money – but it's mostly for the pimps

9. About 80 percent of prostitutes have been raped

Prostitution is legal and big business across Europe

In Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Greece, Turkey, the Netherlands, Hungary, and Latvia, prostitution is legal and regulated. In other countries, it is legal but not regulated.

Europe's 'biggest brothel' is Germany. While sex work was tolerated as early as the 1800s, the government formally legalized it in 2002. The trade has since exploded into a $16.3 billion a year business with as many as over 1 million sex workers.

In Greece, the economy has been so bad that it has pushed more women into the sex trade, with Athens seeing a 7% increase in sex workers since 2012, even as the price for sex has dropped.

Switzerland and Germany have both pioneered so-called "sex boxes" to eliminate street solicitation. In 2012, the Swiss government spent $2 million to build a facility where sex workers pay a daily fee to work the facility.

Top Countries That Have Legalized Prostitution

1. New Zealand

Prostitution has been legal for Kiwis since 2003. There are even licensed brothels operating under public health and employment laws, which means the workers get social benefits just like other emplyees. Definitely a progressive move.

2. Australia

The legal status of prostitution in Oz differs from state to state. It is decriminalised in some areas, and illegal in other parts. Same goes for for brothel ownership. The Aussies love their fun I suppose.

3. Austria

Where Is Prostitution Legal In The World?
It is all legal in Austria

Prostitution is completely legal in Austria. Prostitutes are required to register, undergo periodic health examinations, be 19 years old or older, and pay taxes. Despite this, there is a lot of smuggling and forced prostitution here.

4. Bangladesh

Male prostitution is illegal, but everything else is legal. Bangladesh has a severe minor trafficking problem, which is perpetuated by corruption. Pimping and owning a brothel is also legal.

5. Belgium

They have been trying to remove the stigma, violence and fear associated with prostitution by not just legalising it but also running proper state of the art brothels with fingerprint technology and keycards!

6. Brazil

Prostitution in itself is legal here, though you'll totally get busted if you're channeling your inner Snoop Dogg and pimping away to glory.

7. Canada

Where Is Prostitution Legal In The World?
Sex workers and their allies have held several annual Red Umbrella marches in downtown Vancouver to press for legal reforms to enhance their safety. Conservative and Liberal governments have ignored their concerns

Prostituting yourself is legal, but buying sex became illegal during the end of 2014. This deeply flawed system puts sex workers in a very dangerous and position.

8. Colombia

It is legal to work in the sex industry in Colombia, though pimping isn't. Prostitution is especially widespread in cities such as Cartagena and Barranquilla.

9. Denmark

Prostitution is legal here. The government even helps those with disabilities get laid by incurring the extra costs some of them have to pay.

10. Ecuador

Everything related to sex work is legal here. You can sell your body, run a brothel or be a pimp with no legal ramifications. Forced prostitution is a bit of a problem here though.

11. France

Prostitution is legal in France, though soliciting in public is still outlawed. Pimping is illegal and brothels were outlawed in France in 1946, right after the War.

12. Germany

Prostitution was legalised here in 1927 and there are proper state run brothels. The workers are provided with health insurance, have to pay taxes and they even receive social benefits like pension.

13. Greece

Greece has also followed the German method of including prostitution as an actual job in society. The sex workers get equal rights and have to go for health checkups pretty often.

14. Indonesia

Considering prostitution itself is not even present in their law in any clear form, it's plain to say that the sex trade is legal. This also means that it is very dangerous for forced workers and minors.

15. Netherlands

One of the places most famous for it's red-window sex workers, prostitution is, obviously, legal here, just like a lot of other things. They've always had a slightly more open way of dealing with things deemed taboo elsewhere.

Full List Of Countries Where Prostitution Is Legal

(Until December 2021)

Country

Legality

Model

Notes

Monaco Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Antigua And Barbuda Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Bahamas Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Malta Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Luxembourg Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Macau Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels, solicitation, & "street prostitution" illegal.
Solomon Islands Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal. Lax enforcement.
Fiji Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Cyprus Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Estonia Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Timor Leste Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Trinidad And Tobago Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Latvia Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
North Macedonia Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Botswana Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Namibia Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Central African Republic Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Costa Rica Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Finland Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Denmark Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Singapore Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal. Lax enforcement.
Kyrgyzstan Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Nicaragua Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Bulgaria Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Paraguay Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Hong Kong Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Togo Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Austria Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Tajikistan Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Honduras Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Portugal Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Czech Republic Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Dominican Republic Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Cuba Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels, solicitation, and pornography illegal.
South Sudan Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal. Lax enforcement.
Belgium Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Benin Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Senegal Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Guatemala Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution and brothels legal, pimping illegal.
Zambia Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal. Lax enforcement.
Kazakhstan Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Romania Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Chile Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Malawi Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Mali Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Burkina Faso Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Ivory Coast Limited Legality Prohibitionism Prostitution prohibited, but many loopholes exist.
Madagascar Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Poland Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Algeria Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Argentina Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Spain Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels are gray area, solicitation illegal.
Kenya Limited Legality Prohibitionism, Abolitionism Regulated by local laws in some places.
Italy Limited Legality Prohibitionism Prostitution prohibited, but many loopholes exist.
United Kingdom Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal. Lax enforcement.
Thailand Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels are gray area, solicitation illegal.
DR Congo Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Ethiopia Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Japan Limited Legality Prohibitionism Prostitution prohibited, but many loopholes exist.
Mexico Limited Legality Legalization/Abolitionism/Prohibitionism Varies by state/territory.
Nigeria Limited Legality Abolitionism/Prohibitionism Varies by state/territory.
Brazil Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
India Limited Legality Abolitionism Prostitution is legal, brothels and solicitation illegal.
Cape Verde Legal Decriminalization Sex trafficking and child prostitution still illegal.
Uruguay Legal Legalization Organized and regulated.
Eritrea Legal Legalization
Panama Legal Legalization Organized and regulated.
New Zealand Legal Legalization
Lebanon Legal Legalization Lightly regulated.
Sierra Leone Legal Legalization
Switzerland Legal Legalization Organized and regulated. Pimping and forced prostitution still illegal.
Hungary Legal Legalization Organized and regulated.
Greece Legal Legalization Organized and regulated. Illegal prostitution also common.
Bolivia Legal Legalization Organized and regulated.
Netherlands Legal Legalization Organized and regulated.
Ecuador Legal Legalization Organized and regulated. Inconsistent enforcement.
Australia Legal Legalization/Prohibitionism Varies by state/territory.
Venezuela Legal Legalization Organized and regulated.
Mozambique Legal Legalization
Peru Legal Legalization Organized and regulated.
Colombia Legal Legalization Organized and regulated. Inconsistent enforcement.
Germany Legal Legalization Organized and regulated.
Turkey Legal Legalization Organized and regulated.
Bangladesh Legal Legalization Solicitation still illegal.
Indonesia Legal Decriminalization Frowned upon, but widely tolerated.
El Salvador Illegal/Legal Abolitionism/Prohibitionism/Legalization Legal some places, illegal in others.
United States Illegal/Legal Prohibitionism/Legalization Illegal in 49.5 of 50 states, but still prevalent.
Samoa Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Barbados Illegal Prohibitionism Still exists, but not prevalent.
Iceland Illegal Neo-Abolitionism Selling is legal, but buying, organizing, solicitation illegal. Still widespread.
Belize Illegal Neo-Abolitionism Selling is legal, but buying, organizing, solicitation illegal. Still widespread.
Brunei Illegal Prohibitionism
Maldives Illegal Prohibitionism Still exists, but not prevalent.
Suriname Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread. Lax enforcement.
Bhutan Illegal Prohibitionism Still exists, but not prevalent.
Guyana Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Djibouti Illegal Prohibitionism Illegal but tolerated.
Eswatini Illegal Prohibitionism Illegal but tolerated.
Bahrain Illegal Prohibitionism Still exists, but not prevalent.
Gambia Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Lithuania Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Albania Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Qatar Illegal Prohibitionism Steep penalties.
Armenia Illegal Prohibitionism Still exists, but not prevalent.
Jamaica Illegal Prohibitionism Illegal but tolerated.
Mongolia Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Georgia Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Moldova Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Croatia Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Kuwait Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Ireland Illegal Neo-Abolitionism Selling is legal, but buying, organizing, solicitation illegal.
Palestine Illegal Prohibitionism Reportedly still legal in city of Ramallah
Oman Illegal Prohibitionism
Norway Illegal Neo-Abolitionism Selling and brothels are legal, but purchasing illegal. Loopholes exist.
Turkmenistan Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Libya Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Laos Illegal Prohibitionism
Israel Illegal Neo-Abolitionism Selling is legal, but buying, organizing, solicitation illegal.
Papua New Guinea Illegal Prohibitionism Illegal but tolerated.
Belarus Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread. Minor offense.
United Arab Emirates Illegal Prohibitionism Steep penalties.
Sweden Illegal Neo-Abolitionism Selling and brothels are legal, but purchasing illegal. Loopholes exist.
Azerbaijan Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Jordan Illegal Prohibitionism Illegal but tolerated.
Haiti Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Tunisia Illegal Prohibitionism Legal in two small areas of country only.
Burundi Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Rwanda Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Zimbabwe Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Somalia Illegal Prohibitionism
Chad Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Cambodia Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Syria Illegal Prohibitionism Lax enforcement.
Sri Lanka Illegal Prohibitionism
Taiwan Illegal Prohibitionism Technically legal in "special zones" ... none of which exist.
Niger Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
North Korea Illegal Prohibitionism Prevalence unclear
Cameroon Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Nepal Illegal Prohibitionism
Yemen Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Ghana Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Angola Illegal Prohibitionism Lax enforcement.
Uzbekistan Illegal Prohibitionism Lax enforcement.
Saudi Arabia Illegal Prohibitionism Steep penalties.
Morocco Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Canada Illegal Neo-Abolitionism Selling is legal, but buying, organizing, solicitation illegal.
Afghanistan Illegal Prohibitionism Sex outside of marriage is punishable by death.
Iraq Illegal Prohibitionism Buyer, seller, & organizer all liable. Steep penalties.
Ukraine Illegal Prohibitionism Illegal but tolerated.
Uganda Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
South Korea Illegal Prohibitionism Illegal but tolerated.
Myanmar Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
South Africa Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
Tanzania Illegal Prohibitionism Still widespread.
France Illegal Neo-Abolitionism Selling is legal, but buying, organizing, solicitation illegal. Loopholes exist.
Iran Illegal Prohibitionism Repeat offenders may be executed.
Vietnam Illegal Prohibitionism
Egypt Illegal Prohibitionism Still exists, but not prevalent.
Philippines Illegal Prohibitionism Illegal but tolerated.
Russia Illegal Prohibitionism
Pakistan Illegal Prohibitionism Still common despite steep penalties.
China Illegal Prohibitionism Frequent legal exception: happy ending massages.
Where does India stand?

Prostitution itself is not illegal in our country, but soliciting and public prostitution are illegal. Owning a brothel is also against the law, but, as places like GB Road and Kamathipura prove, these laws are rarely enforced.

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