June 14, 2007 / 1:45 AM / in 11 years

Mexico City lawmakers seek to legalize prostitution

By Frank Jack Daniel

MEXICO CITY, June 13 (Reuters) - Mexico City’s leftist lawmakers plan to legalize prostitution, the latest step toward making the sprawling capital the most liberal in Latin America, following laws allowing abortion and same-sex unions.

Juan Bustos, a legislator with the leftist party that holds a majority in the city assembly, presented a bill this week to legalize sex work in the capital.

"This activity must be regulated, it can’t just take place without control, without health support for the users or the workers," he said on Wednesday.

Prostitution is widespread both on seedy street corners and in swanky brothels in Mexico and authorities frequently turn a blind eye to it. The lack of control has allowed child prostitution to flourish in the city, Bustos said.

The legislator, who heads the assembly’s human rights commission, said he hoped the bill would be voted on within a month. He said there were no clear estimates about the number of sex workers in the city, but that it could be as high as 50,000.

The left-wing Party of Democratic Revolution runs Mexico City’s government and has a majority in the city assembly.

Since the new legislative period began last year, the assembly has pushed through laws approving same-sex unions and abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The changes have outraged the Roman Catholic Church and conservative sectors of society and provoked Pope Benedict to threaten politicians with excommunication if they supported abortion. The abortion law has been challenged by the federal government in Mexico’s Supreme Court.

Most of Latin America is strongly Catholic and while many people disagree with the Church on issues like contraception, few places in the region have gone as far as to legalize abortion, considered by the Church to be a grave sin.

Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Mexico City archdiocese, said the Catholic Church was concerned the city government was spending time passing laws that affected minorities rather than resolving issues like crime and water shortages.

"We have problems of drug dealers in front of schools and churches, and they do nothing to stop it. We have problems of family violence, a whole series of truly urgent situations," he said.

He said the Church also disagreed with language in the bill describing prostitution as "dignified work."

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