Paying for sex in France is about to get a lot more expensive.
France has joined a growing number of European countries that criminalize clients of prostitutes.
The French National Assembly outlawed the hiring of prostitutes while eliminating penalties for sex workers. Paying for sex services now carries a fine of 1,500 euros ($1,700). Repeat offenders could be fined up to 3,750 euros ($4,260).
Those convicted would also have to attend classes to learn about the conditions faced by prostitutes.
It has taken more than two years to pass the controversial legislation because of differences between the two houses of parliament over the issue.
Some sex workers protested against the law during the final debate.
The demonstrators outside parliament in Paris, numbering about 60, carried banners and placards one of which read: "Don't liberate me, I'll take care of myself".
Members of the Strass sex workers' union say the law will affect the livelihoods of France's sex workers, estimated to number between 30,000 and 40,000.
Sweden was the first country to criminalise those who pay for sex rather than the prostitutes, introducing the law in 1999. Other countries have since adopted the so-called "Nordic model": Norway in 2008, Iceland in 2009, and Northern Ireland in 2014. Earlier this year, the European parliament approved a resolution calling for the law to be adopted throughout the continent.
But many advocacy groups warn the model makes sex work more dangerous.
Catherine Stephens, an activist with the UK-based International Union of Sex Workers, and a sex worker herself, says criminalisation makes those in the industry "much more likely to have to accept clients who are obscuring their identity, which benefits people who want to perpetrate violence".
Ms Stephens told the BBC that criminalising those who wish to purchase sex makes them less likely to report concerns about a sex worker's wellbeing.
"We have had cases where clients have helped people escape from situations of coercion ... Criminalising the client actively works against that, discouraging them from coming forward. We need to create a situation in which it is easy to report harm, violence and coercion. Blanket criminalisation of premises, brothels, or clients absolutely works against that."
Meanwhile, sex workers will no longer be fined or jailed for public soliciting. And foreign sex workers actively trying to get out of prostitution can be given a six-month residential permit and state funding to prevent prostitution.
The measure has been quite controversial in France, having bounced back and forth between the legislature's two chambers since 2013. It passed Wednesday in the National Assembly by a vote of 64 to 12.
"I think this prostitution bill is a good thing," one Parisian wrote on Twitter. "They finally understand that the clients are guilty."
But many wondered how prostitution could be legalized if the purchase of sex is now illegal.
"This anti-prostitution law is as if we allowed bakers to display their cakes but didn't allow people to buy them," Micky Marty tweeted.
France follows at least four other European countries that have criminalized the purchase of sex: Sweden, Norway, Iceland and the UK.
(Courtesy : BBC and CNN)