The laws on prostitution vary considerably around the world. They can vary from total prohibition of both the sale and purchase of sexual services, bans on either, regulation to varying extent of some or all aspects, to minimal regulation or restriction of any activity. Even when the sale or purchase is legal, prohibiting some or all of the activities necessary to work such as communicating between worker and client (soliciting), working from premises (brothel or bawdy-house), and involvement of third parties (managers, drivers, security) produces a de facto prohibition.
In practice neither capital punishment, incarceration, nor remedial training have had any appreciable effect on the trade. The issue of prostitution as a whole is socially and politically divisive, and difficult to form a consensus on. In North Korea, Sudan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, prostitution is a crime punishable by death.
Prostitution is illegal in the majority of African countries. Nevertheless, it is common, driven by the widespread poverty in many sub-Saharan African countries, and is one of the drivers for the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Africa. Social breakdown and poverty caused by civil war in several African countries has caused further increases in the rate of prostitution in those countries. For these reasons, some African countries have also become destinations for sex tourism.
AIDS infection rates are particularly high among African sex workers. Long distance truck drivers have been identified as a group with the high-risk behaviour of sleeping with prostitutes and a tendency to spread the infection along trade routes in the region. Infection rates of up to 33% were observed in this group in the late 1980s in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
In Gambia, prostitution is illegal. The majority of women prostitutes are foreigners.
In Asia, the main characteristic of the region is the very big discrepancy between the laws which exist on the books and what occurs in practice. For example, in Thailand prostitution is illegal, but in practice it is tolerated and partly regulated, and the country is a destination for sex tourism. Such situations are common in many Asian countries.
In Japan, prostitution is legal with the exception of heterosexual, vaginal intercourse. Advritisments that detail what each individual prostitute will do (oral sex, anal sex, etc.) are a common sight in the country, although many prostitues disregard the law. See Prostitution in Japan.
In the United Kingdom, it is illegal to pay for sex with a prostitute who has been "subjected to force" and this is a strict liability offence (clients can be prosecuted even if they did not know the prostitute was forced), but prostitution itself is legal.
The enforcement of the anti-prostitution laws varies by country. One example is Belgium, in which brothels are illegal, but in practice, they are tolerated, operate quite openly, and in some parts of the country, the situation is similar of that in neighboring Netherlands.
Prostitution remains illegal in most of the ex-communist countries of Eastern Europe. Here, prostitution was outlawed by the former communist regimes, and those countries chose to keep it illegal even after the fall of the Communists. In Hungary and Latvia however, prostitution is legal and regulated.