Uruguay: Parliament Considers Legalization of Prostitution

In February 1996, the Commission on the Constitution, Legislation and Codes of the lower house of the Uruguayan Parliament will be considering a measure to legalize prostitution. Currently, prostitution is neither prohibited nor permitted under Uruguayan law. Local activists report that police detain prostitutes for up to twenty-four hours and often demand bribes or sexual favors. Sex workers are subject to a wide range of abuses, including physical violence and murder, but such crimes are rarely investigated by the police, and many go unreported.

The first version of the proposed legislation was drafted in 1993 after two years of discussion among representatives of the Asociaci„n de Meretrices Profesionales de Uruguay (AMEPU), the Asociaci„n de Travestis del Uruguay (ATRU), the Department of Legal Medicine of the Faculty of Medicine in Montevideo, the Ministry of Public Health, the Montevideo Police Department and the human rights group Servicio de Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ). This proposed legislation would provide protection under the law to "all persons, of whatever sex, age eighteen and over" practicing prostitution. Prostitutes would be obligated to obtain an identification card from a registry which would be established within the National Police. They would also be required to submit to periodic medical examinations and to work only within designated commercial establishments and zones. All those complying with these regulations would be recognized as workers by the state. In December 1995, lobbying by AMEPU resulted in a decision by the Social Security Bank that prostitutes working legally (provided such a law is promulgated) will be eligible for all programs offered by the bank, including pension plans.

Towards the end of 1993, Cruzada 94, a group of legislators within the ruling Partido Colorado, prepared a second draft of the proposed legislation. In the new draft the term "persons" was replaced by "women," thereby excluding male and transgendered sex workers. In response, Homosexuales Unidos (HU) and ATRU drafted an annex specifically recognizing transvestites and establishing a center for the provision of a broad range of health care and social services for sexual minorities. Although one representative of Cruzada 94 was involved in drafting the annex, it has received little additional support within parliament.

In February, the Commission on the Constitution, Legislation and Codes of the lower house will consider the various options for legalizing prostitution. HU and ATRU have requested that letters be sent to the members of this commission, as well as to the members of the Human Rights Commission and the Public Health Commission, emphasizing the following points:

  1. Parliament should not discriminate on the basis of gender in any legislation. Any law regulating prostitution should apply equally to all persons regardless of gender.
  2. Parliament should promote respect for the human rights of all persons regardless of profession, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and should work towards ending discrimination in all its forms.

Send letters to:

Comisión de Constitución, Legislación y Códigos
Palacio Legislativo
Av. General Flores sin numero
Montevideo CP 11000
Uruguay
Comisión de Derechos Humanos
Palacio Legislativo
Av. General Flores sin numero
Montevideo CP 11000
Uruguay
Comisión de Salud Publico
Palacio Legislativo
Av. General Flores sin numero
Montevideo CP 11000
Uruguay

Please send copies of your letters to IGLHRC and to:

Homosexuales Unidos
Venezuela 1491
Montevideo
Uruguay