Many of them are minors, and many are foreign victims of human trafficking.
The bill approved Thursday by Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi's Cabinet, would outlaw prostitution in public places, like streets and parks. It includes no ban on prostitutes operating behind closed doors.
The bill needs final approval by Parliament to take effect.
"We are trying to hit hard on the prostitution market by punishing street prostitution," said Mara Carfagna, the equal opportunities minister.
If the bill becomes law, prostitutes and clients will face up to 15 days in jail and fines of up to euro3,000 (US$4,228) -- with tougher penalties if the prostitutes are underage.
Prostitutes acting under coercion by pimps will not face punishment under the measure.
But some activists who work to get prostitutes off the streets said the measures would only make their efforts more difficult.
"It moves the problem from the streets to the homes," Oliviero Forti, the head of the immigration office at the Catholic charity Caritas said in a telephone interview. He called the measure "counterproductive and inefficient."
"To keep these people hidden means that operators like us or even police cannot intercept and help them anymore," he said.
RSS feeds | Slideshow archive | ABC13 wireless | Help solve crimes