Rome's mayor and officials are considering a "red light" district to shield prostitutes from exploitation and families from embarrassment.

Prostitution is legal in Italy, and its practitioners are a common sight along several streets in Rome and many other Italian cities.

City officials in the EUR neighborhood, filled with ministries, office high-rises and residential buildings, want to designate certain streets for prostitutes, starting experimentally in April.

Mayor Ignazio Marino told state TV RAINews24  Sunday the aim is to "find a balance" by pinpointing places, such as parks frequented by children and families, where prostitution won't be allowed, and by designating some streets where it will.

Exploitation of prostitution is illegal, as is paying minors for sex.

EUR official Andrea Santoro says designated streets will help ensure prostitutes aren't put there by traffickers. Many women leave homes in Africa and Eastern Europe for Italy after promises of work like waitressing, but instead are forced into prostitution by trafficking rackets.

Some neighborhood groups like the proposal. Paolo Lampariello, from one such group, said there are so many prostitutes on EUR's streets that "women can't enter their homes without being mistaken for prostitutes."

The newspaper Avvenire, of the Italian bishops' conference, scathingly described the designated-streets-for-prostitutes plan as "a hypocritical (and perhaps ideological) operation for urban `decorum."'

The city would provide psychological support and health care to prostitutes on the designated streets. Clients of prostitutes working on non-designated streets would risk fines of 500 euros (about $550) under the plan.

Pope Francis decried the "shameful plague" of human trafficking and urged prayer and reflection about the problem.

Marino's political roots are in a centrist faction of the Italian government's main coalition party, the Democrats.