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October 01, 2000 10:47pm
Dutch Prostitutes Gain Benefits
Source: AP
by: Anthony Deutsch

(ROTTERDAM, Netherlands) -- Prostitutes and politicians toasted the lifting of an 88-year-old ban on brothels, a move intended to better regulate the world's oldest profession and turn its practitioners into legitimate taxpayers.

Legislation enacted last year and signed by Queen Beatrix went into effect Sunday, ending the anomalous status of bordellos as illegal but tolerated.

Amsterdam's red light district draws millions of visitors every year to its cinemas, live sex shows, and sex stores. It's not uncommon to see middle-aged tourist couples walking hand-in-hand past storefront windows where barely clothed prostitutes flaunt their wares.

Prostitution itself was already legal in the Netherlands, but the new law transforms the sex establishments into legal businesses with working guidelines and employment benefits. Prostitutes and brothel owners alike will be obliged to pay taxes.

``Prostitution has become an official occupation,'' said the author and columnist who uses the pen name Carrie, at a celebration inaugurating the law.

At the event, organized by a long-established trade union for prostitutes called ``The Red Thread,'' activists praised the change as a long overdue recognition of a service ``as old as time.''

Former prostitute Mariska Majoor, 31, called it ``the beginning of emancipation in prostitution,'' giving men and women the right to health benefits and a pension.

It will also set legal guidelines for the sex business which will make it safer to be a prostitute, such as the right to refuse a customer.

Bob Schijndel, a parliament member who voted in favor of the bill, said it will become tougher for criminals to use bordellos as fronts for drug and weapons trade. He expects about 6,000 registered prostitutes to take advantage of the financial benefits enjoyed by every Dutch employee.

The Dutch government also will gain an important source of income. The Dutch sex industry, along with the coffee shops that sell small quantities of marijuana, generate billions of dollars each year, amounting to an estimated half percent to the nation's gross domestic product.

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