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Prostitution in Uruguay was legislated in 2002 through the sex work law (17.515). Before that, prostitution was unlegislated but it was not illegal, since the constitution allows any activity that is not forbidden by law. Prostitution is currently not a subject of debate.
Both, males and females over the age of 18 can work as prostitutes. The prostitution of a minor (person under the legal age of consent) is prohibited and the authorities have the obligation of protect them from sexual exploitation and prostitution. Sex works must enroll the national sex work register, this demands an initial and periodical health checks focus in the prevention, detection and treatments of sexually transmitted diseases. The register gives the worker a license which is necessary to work in brothels. All data from the register is confidential.
Despite this, many sex workers work on the streets or independently and not always have health checks.
Prostitution must be performed in brothels (in Uruguay they have many euphemistic names like “whiskerias” or “casas de masajes”). Usually brothels use a red light as distinctive, or have discrete announcements with the name of the establishment and a suggestive phrase to attract clients.
In order to open, a brothel must have the authorization of the municipal government and the state police and follow certain rules dictated by the Ministry of Public Health. Police and municipal government are in charge of determining in which areas brothels may exist considering the characteristics of the place. However brothels may not function near schools or high schools.
Minors are not allowed to enter brothels, in addition to performing any kind of activity inside.
As any commercial establishment brothels pay taxes and have social security obligations.
Violation to the sex work law is punishable with fines. Pimping, commercial sexual exploitation of adults and minors is illegal and severely punished. The government often lunches campaigns to persuade tourists and residents of hiring or promoting minors prostitution.
There is a worrying presence of Dominican prostitutes in Uruguay who took advantage of a formerly liberal immigration policy.
The aforementioned sex labour law created the Comisión Nacional Honoraria de Protección al Trabajo Sexual (National Honorary Commission for Protection of Sexual Work) within the Ministry of Public Health, whose aim is to advise Executive Branch on this matter, watch over the fulfillment of the law, provide counseling to sex workers and promote sexual education courses and campaigns on the matter.
There was a trade union named Asociación de Meretrices Profesionales del Uruguay, created in 1986, which comprised about 1200 women sex workers affiliates and whose purpose was the cooperation between sex workers, the defense of their rights, carrying out workshops and promote the prevention of STDs and HIV. Even received support from the UNFPA. However it was dissolved in early 2015 under accusations of corruption of its president and vicepresident, including misappropriation of donated lands intended for HIV-infected women and donated goods for beneficiaries.
(...) No inhabitant of the Republic will be obliged to do what the law does not demand nor deprived of what it does not prohibit