Zim moves towards HIV decriminalisation. Zimbabwe has made great progress in the decriminalisation of wilful transmission of HIV as part of efforts to end the stigma and discrimination that surrounds HIV infection.
Through an amendment in the Marriages Bill 2019, Parliament is seeking to repeal Section 79 of the Criminal Code which will modernise and humanise the country’s HIV response and would no longer make it an offence to knowingly infect another.
Speaking at the launch of a media toolkit on HIV criminalisation, chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health Dr Ruth Labode said the process was as good as done as the Marriages Bill was now waiting for President Mnangagwa’s signature.
“The process of repealing has been done and we came to Parliament and it sailed through. It is now at the office of the President, but is being held back by the issue of lobola which the chiefs have challenged. “So it is a done deal. The war has been won we should now be looking at the roadmap to ending HIV,” she said.
According to the criminal code, any person who knowing that they are infected with HIV, or realising that there is a real risk or possibility that they might be, then intentionally infects another or is so reckless that infection is likely, shall be guilty of deliberate transmission of HIV and can face a jail term of up to 20 years.
Health Law and Policy Consortium projects coordinator Ms Dorcas Chitiyo said the criminalisation of HIV transmission violated human rights and interfered negatively with the country’s HIV response.
“We are focussing on decriminalising an aspect that is contrary to our health laws and public health policies. It is unfortunate that when we criminalised this, we did it without the support of scientific proof. It is not easy to establish that the person realised that there was a real risk and that they realised they were positive without having gone for testing,” she said.
She said most cases that were brought to the courts were from people who wanted to abuse the law and were mainly targeting those who had shared their status.
Ms Chitiyo added that criminalisation of deliberate or reckless HIV transmission had been more harmful to women who were usually the first to know their HIV status, making them vulnerable to being blamed for bringing the disease into a relationship.
The argument is that it is not necessary for Parliament to develop laws specific to HIV since any deliberate or malicious transmission can be handled under other laws. HLPC chairperson Mr Tinashe Mundawarara said the media had played a significant role in the journey towards decriminalising HIV adding that the toolkit would assist in highlighting the country’s HIV response.
“We have come a long way in terms of this advocacy journey on decriminalisation of HIV. “Media has played a major role in the fight to decriminalise HIV, this has helped to reverse the stigma and discrimination in the communities in terms of access to health care,” he said.
The efforts to address outdated HIV criminal laws are gaining momentum across Africa and most have been reformed or rejected in countries like South Africa, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kenya, Malawi, DRC and the East African Community.
Source – Bulawayo24
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