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Mexico City lawmakers have given the green light to decriminalize sex work in the capital, hoping it will be a first step to a crackdown on sex trafficking that traps thousands of Mexican women and children.
Temistocles Villanueva, a local representative with the ruling center-left Morena party, said the new law recognized that people had the right to engage in sex work.
Sex work is allowed in much of Mexico but states have different and sometimes unclear rules, meaning workers frequently operate in legal vacuums which can leave them vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking by crime gangs.
Mexico is a source, transit and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, with Mexican women and children the most at risk from sex trafficking, according to the US state department.
Elvira Madrid, founder of sex work rights group Brigada Callejera, said the change to the law was welcome, but there needed to be a legal framework to protect workers. Debate over the legal status of sex work in Mexico and elsewhere is controversial, particularly among some anti-slavery groups which argue that decriminalization provides a cover for human traffickers. But sex worker and other human rights groups in Mexico say criminalization only sends the problem deeper underground, and exposes an already vulnerable group to abuses by police and organized crime.