TALLINN - Reports that Finland may outlaw the purchases of sex services have prompted Estonian politicians to suggest that the Baltic country do the same.
Justice Minister Rein Lang said that Estonia should pass the legislation at the same time as Finland. "Right now the criminal purchase of sex is not on the agenda, but the situation may change as soon as Finland passes a corresponding law," he told the Postimees daily in an interview.
As Lang sees it, Estonia will have no alternative after Finland's move, since the Baltic state will immediately become the destination of sex tourists from across Finland and Sweden.
"Public pressure in Estonia is, of course, headed in the direction of joining such a ban," Lang said.
The minister suggested that Estonia should act in unison with its neighbors. "Regrettably, the Swedes did not do this [make paying for sex a criminal offense] in time together with the Finns. We really should be able to keep in step with Finland," he said.
Lang told the Finnish news agency STT a couple of weeks ago that Estonia currently had no plans to change corresponding legislation.
Last week, the Finnish government approved a bill making the purchases of sex services illegal, and was set to send it to Parliament for endorsement this week. According to the bill, punishment for the purchase of sex 's regardless of where it takes place 's is up to six months in prison or a fine. Under effective laws, the buying and selling of sex is punishable in a public place though not via the Internet.
Ardo Ranne, head of the anti-prostitution unit of the Estonian North Police Precinct, said it would be possible to assess the effects of penalization in Finland in a half-year.
"We have grounds to believe that passing such a bill in Finland may somewhat increase both supply and demand in Estonia," he said. "But in more concrete terms, it will be possible to assess the influence of the act only after half a year, when its actual effect and the subsequent changes in Estonia have become apparent."
The Estonian Women's Studies and Resource Center said it fears a mass invasion of Finnish and Swedish sex tourists. According to an ENUT analysis, more than half those buying prostitutes in Estonia are foreign tourists. They mainly come from Finland and Sweden, but there is also a small amount of German and Danish clients.
Six years ago, before the purchase of sex was made illegal in Sweden, Estonia received only half the number of Swedish sex tourists.
ENUT director Ilvi Joe-Cannon said that Estonia would have to follow the Swedish and Finnish example. "We won't be able to escape it, because otherwise Finnish and even Russian prostitutes will start coming here, and we will eventually drown in the flood. It will kill us," she said.
Anne-Maria Marttila of Finland's Turku University, who studies demand for prostitution, backed the suggestion of following Finland. "The Finnish and Estonian prostitution cultures are very similar, and a large number of Estonian prostitutes' clients are Finns," she said.
According to Finnish police information, there are an estimated 8,000 prostitutes in Finland. Of these 3,000 are Finns, 2,500 Russians from St. Petersburg and Murmansk and about 2,000 are from Estonia.
Studies have shown that around 300,000 Finnish men have purchased sexual services.
Sweden prohibited the purchase of sex in 1999. Offenders can be punished with a fine or a jail sentence of up to six months.