Lombardy region approves referendum on brothels

Referendum on repeal of 1958 anti-brothel law

Lombardy's regional council has approved a referendum on a partial repeal of the so-called Merlin law, which outlawed brothels in 1958, reports Italy’s principal news agency ANSA.

The idea behind the repeal is to take prostitutes off the streets and bring them to work in a safer environment behind closed doors.

Those in favour of the referendum, proposed by the anti-immigrant Northern League, included Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia party and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, with the New Centre Right and the centre-left Democratic Party opposing. Centre-right lawmakers said the issue was a ''battle to overcome an obsolete and hypocritical law''.

Sponsored by Socialist Senator Lina Merlin, law no. 75 of February 1958 was passed over strenuous opposition from right-wing and monarchist parties. It abolished State regulation of prostitution and made exploiting prostitutes a crime.

Merlin modelled her law on the example of French activist and ex-prostitute Marthe Richard, who got similar legislation passed in her country in 1946. She also sought to incorporate the principles of a 1949 UN convention against human trafficking and the exploitation of sex workers, ANSA reported further.

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