Individuals who use the services of prostitutes could face criminal prosecution, under a bill approved yesterday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. The bill was proposed by MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima ), who chairs the Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women, with several other MKs signed on it, including Uri Orbach and Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi ), David Azoulay (Shas ) and Uri Ariel (National Union ).

The ministerial panel's approval means the bill goes to the Knesset with government backing.

Under the bill, courts could sentence those who patronize prostitutes to up to six months in prison or, if it's a first offense, order them to attend workshops given by former prostitutes who will talk about their past. The bill will be debated by the subcommittee on Wednesday.

"To date, the prostitution chain always had a link that was invisible to the eye, and from which society never demanded an accounting, even though [these people] are the ones who enable this injustice and terrible exploitation of women in distress to continue and flourish right under our noses," said Zuaretz.

"If we really want to fight the shameful phenomenon of prostitution, we have to hold its consumers responsible, and get the enforcement authorities to act against them as well," she continued. "In the Scandinavian countries and in France, where they've passed a law like this, prostitution dropped by half in a short time."

According to the Task Force Against Trafficking in Women, a third of Israeli prostitutes are minors; the average age at which girls start working is 14. Some 90 percent of prostitutes are controlled by pimps, and 55 percent have been raped.

A survey done in Sweden following passage of a similar law showed that before it was passed, 13.6 percent of Swedish men patronized prostitutes, while in 2008, nine years after the law was passed, the rate had dropped to 7.8 percent.