We don’t know how much of a deterrent effect it would be to pass stiffer penalties against those who pay underage children (and their pimps) for sex. But it is astounding that a New Hampshire House committee doesn’t care to try.

The Democrats on the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee have stymied HB 201, which would make this crime a Class A felony, rather than its current Class B.

A man or woman who pays to have sex with anyone under the age of 18 would spend at least 7 1/2 years behind bars. The victims here, by the way, are often much younger than that and are forced into this horrible situation by pimps who have the children as virtual hostages.

Life without parole might be a better punishment, but we are willing to start with this bill’s parameters.

A committee majority (all Democrats save one) voted last week to hold and “study’’ the bill.

“The real thing we want to determine is whether the present Class B penalty is really working. Is it slowing the johns down from dealing with underage prostitutes?” explained Rep. Linn Opderbecke, Democrat from Dover.

As we noted, we don’t know just what effect the current, lesser penalty is having on “johns.’’ But their crime is beyond despicable. Even if the deterrent effect is small, the tougher punishment would certainly fit the crime.