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AIDS 2008 >> Session WEAE01 >> Presentation WEAE0102 >> Abstract 2008_WEAE0102


Criminalising HIV transmission: is this what women really need?

Presented by Michaela Clayton, Namibia.

M. Clayton1, R. Schleifer2, L. Gerntholtz3

1AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, Windhoek, Namibia, 2Human Rights Watch, HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program, New York, United States, 3Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa

Issues: Sub Saharan Africa has recently witnessed a proliferation of legislation criminalizing HIV exposure and/or transmission. Though promoted as key to addressing women’s vulnerability to HIV, these laws in fact threaten the health and human rights of women in the region.
Description: These HIV-specific criminal laws have been passed notwithstanding the lack of evidence that they are effective in preventing HIV transmission, and without regard to their likely detrimental effect on women. They place women in a position of not being able to disclose their HIV status because of a risk of violence and of facing prosecution if they do not disclose.
In some cases they attach criminal liability regardless of whether safer sex was practiced, HIV status was disclosed, the actual risk of transmission, and whether the threat or perceived threat of violence prevented disclosure. Many laws penalize mother-to-child HIV transmission, regardless of whether precautions are taken or are indeed available to women.
USAID support for criminalization of HIV transmission through HIV model legislation in the region, coupled with the failure of leading international health agencies to clearly oppose criminalization and advocate for alternatives, has facilitated the spread of these laws in sub Saharan Africa.
Lessons learned: Laws that promote women’s status and fundamental rights to sexual decision making and freedom from violence and coercion are critical to protect women from HIV, but have been bypassed in the rush toward criminalization.
Next steps: UNAIDS, USAID, and other international health agencies must take urgent action to educate lawmakers and civil society about the limitations of using criminal law to prevent HIV transmission, to promote laws and policies to protect women from HIV, and to mitigate the harm caused by criminalization laws already in place.

Mexico City - AIDS 2008
Abstract no. 2008_WEAE0102

Suggested Citation
"M.Clayton, et al. Criminalising HIV transmission: is this what women really need?. Oral Abstract Session: Mexico City - AIDS 2008: Abstract no. WEAE0102"