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Campaign against the vice industry seems certain to fail for as long as many women view escort work as a way out of the poverty trap. Anastasija, a year-old student from Belgrade, was arrested last month under suspicion of working as a prostitute in one of the many Belgrade escort agencies offering men sexual services.

Law amendment in serbia increases penalties for sex work

Hundreds of girls shared her fate after police launched a massive campaign against prostitution in the autumn, which saw 10 of the largest agencies closed down. The campaign, however, achieved little in the long term. After a brief spell in jail, many of the prostitutes, including Anastasija, are back at their old jobs.

She said police harassment won't drive her out of the escort business, as Serbia's average monthly wage of about euro was not enough to live on. For a place like Serbia that's good. I don't have to think about problems such as bills or buying make-up or clothes.

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Some human rights and women's groups believe the authorities take the wrong line with prostitution. Instead of the tough action called for by the general public and the international community, they want the trade legalised or at least decriminalised.

This IWPR reporter spoke to four other young women working at Anastasija's agency - which operates from a three-bedroomed flat in the centre of Belgrade.

They said they were willing volunteers, who were desperate for the money. The agency owner, Dragan, aged 35, said he chose the premises, close to a police station, because they were "the least suspicious".

He lives with one of the girls working for him, while the others "come to the agency when we have clients". Dragan said the police crackdown had forced businesses like his to take evasive action, "We often switch locations, use mobiles phones instead of landlines and pay our contacts in the police to inform us about possible raids. He takes home about 3, euro a month.

Like the women in his agency, he wants prostitution legalised. They argue that this will provide greater safety for prostitutes and clients and drive out the more criminal elements that thrive on extortion rackets. Official figures is prostitution legal in serbia around 2, prostitutes work in Belgrade, but the real is thought to be far higher. Most are employed by escort agencies, earning around 50 euro for an hour of sexual services.

Smaller s work the streets close to the main railway terminus and the Belgrade-Nis highway, making about the same but facing greater danger. The human rights and women's groups agitating for legalisation argue that making the sex industry a legitimate business would decrease the crime rate.

Status of ratification of the main international human rights treaties, conventions and other instruments

At the moment, the selling of sexual services remains a criminal offence in Serbia, warranting fines and one-month jail sentences for the prostitutes and five- to year prison terms for their pimps and bosses. Vladan Batic, Serbia's justice minister, told the newspaper Blic in December that major changes in the legal code were not on the horizon. Veselin Saric, of the police department fighting organised crime, said his colleagues had filed more than criminal charges against those involved in prostitution since But the hundreds of advertisements in the backs of Belgrade magazines and newspapers tell a different story.

According to one retired Serbian police officer - who worked for years on combating prostitution and human trafficking - such campaigns on their own can achieve very little.

The ex-officer said he also favoured separating the offences of people-trafficking and prostitution, so that the latter could be legalised, or at least decriminalised. Slavisa Stijak. Tuesday, 6 September, Locations Serbia. Connect with us.

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