A government plan to rehabilitate sex workers has yet to be implemented as most of the funding for the program has not been disbursed, a newspaper report said Sunday.
The project, which was drafted by numerous ministries and approved in January, mandated the establishment of group homes and recovery programs for prostitutes, the expansion of designated medical facilities and the drawing up of educational plans for promoting sexual health and curbing abuse, among other programs.
Its approval came shortly after the Knesset passed a law penalizing the solicitation of prostitution.
According to the Haaretz daily, the Welfare Ministry — which is tasked with handling the plan’s NIS 30 million yearly ($8.59 million) budget — only received the funds from the Finance Ministry in April, four months after the plan was approved. It only began transferring portions of the funds to the Health Ministry two weeks ago and has yet to send any money to the Education Ministry, both of which are also involved in the program.
Due to the budgetary delays, the ministries responsible for implementing the plan have yet to do so.
“The budget from the Welfare Ministry hasn’t been transferred to the [Education] Ministry. Upon its receipt, the ministry is prepared to implement the decisions,” the newspaper quoted Education Ministry sources saying.
The Welfare Ministry said the program’s planning was delayed because the Finance Ministry had waited until April to transfer the money. The Treasury rejected the blame and said the Welfare Ministry had received the money several months ago, according to the report.
The Coalition Against Prostitution in Israel, which includes both government and nongovernmental organizations , expressed concern the funding delays could cause the July 2020 start date for the law banning the solicitation of prostitution to be pushed off.
“We expected there would be understanding that this is an urgent need but even though the Finance Ministry transferred the budget, the Welfare Ministry is not using it,” Nitzan Kahane, a member of the coalition, told Haaretz.
The purpose of the plan was to help sex workers find alternate livelihoods, as part of the legislation that will criminalize procuring the services of a prostitute.
Though pimping, sex trafficking, and running a brothel are punishable under existing Israeli law, prostitution itself remains legal.
In 2016, the Welfare Ministry estimated there were around 12,000 sex workers driving the country’s NIS 1.2 billion ($318 million) sex industry. According to that report, 71 percent of prostitutes said they began sex work out of financial desperation, and 76% said they would leave the industry if they could.
The idea of outlawing johns and pimps but not prostitution was first introduced by Sweden in its 1999 Sex Purchase Act — since adopted by Norway, Iceland, Canada, France, and Northern Ireland — which requires consumers to pay a fine or face up to six months in jail.
Defending the apparent contradiction in making buying sex illegal, but selling it legal, Sweden has contended that prostitution is essentially an act of exploitation and violence by the customers, who hold a position of power and should bear the brunt of the penalty.