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Bid to make paying for sex illegal
Paying for sex could become illegal in Northern Ireland if proposed law changes are introduced.
The crackdown on prostitution is part of a range of measures contained in draft legislation aimed at tackling human trafficking and exploitation in the region.
While activities such as kerb-crawling, pimping and brothel-keeping are illegal in the UK, selling or paying for sex is permitted.
Democratic Unionist Lord Morrow, who is proposing the law change in a Private Member's Bill, claimed the move would make human traffickers think twice about coming to Northern Ireland. He said while it was illegal to pay for sex with a victim of human trafficking, it was often a difficult offence to prove.
"I am trying to make it an offence to purchase sex because many of those who have been trafficked and sent to Northern Ireland are pushed into the sex trade," he said. "Now it is very difficult to differentiate between a person who is coerced and a person who is a willing participant so therefore what we are saying is if a person purchases sex then they are the offender."
The Assembly member's Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which has been sent out for public consultation, has many hurdles to overcome if it is to become law - none higher than the task of gaining sufficient cross-party support across the Stormont chamber.
Lord Morrow said the problem of human trafficking in Northern Ireland was "escalating" - highlighting police figures that showed there were 27 victims rescued last year, compared with 11 in 2008/09.
Campaigners in the Irish Republic said the proposed law reform should provide an all-island approach to putting pimps, traffickers and other criminals out of business.
Denise Charlton, chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, which is spearheading the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign to bring in the same law change south of the border, said the initiative should bring urgency to the debate.
"Criminals and in particular those behind the sex trade ignore borders and do not see them as obstacles. By bringing the laws on both parts of Ireland into line we would be sending a powerful message that this industry and its exploitation is not welcome here," she said.