reforms to Angola's Penal Code have divided opinion in the country
about whether HIV-positive people who intentionally infect others with
the virus should be punished.
The law under discussion calls
for a sentence of between three and 10 years in prison for those who
knowingly pass on infectious diseases, including HIV. Some argue that
the law will act as a deterrent; others say it will bring more problems
"Criminalisation is going to backfire. It goes
against human rights and the fight against discrimination, and it won't
prevent intentional infection," Roberto Brandt Campos, a coordinator
with UNAIDS in Angola, told IRIN/PlusNews.
UNAIDS and the
World Health Organisation voiced their opposition to such a measure
being introduced anywhere in the world in a document released in 2007,
saying that it represented a step backwards in HIV prevention efforts.
is not the first time such a law has been tabled in Angola: the country
introduced legislation relating to HIV and AIDS in 2004 but a measure
calling for the criminalisation of purposeful infection was among those
Victim and executioner
to Campos, one of the main difficulties with such a law is determining
the intention to infect. In his view, proving transmission from one
specific individual to another is already difficult, and proving that
an infection was intentional even more so. "Transmitting the virus out
of negligence is different from transmitting it in on purpose," he
Carolina Pinto, an activist with the
non-governmental organisation Luta pela Vihda (Fight for Life),
believes those who infect their partners on purpose should be punished,
but acknowledges that the line between negligence and intention is a
"Doing it on purpose is different from not telling,
but those who have the virus must accept their condition and protect
their partner's life," she said, adding that both partners should take
some responsibility for protecting themselves.
Even so, Pinto,
who is HIV positive, said there were some behaviours that suggested
deliberate transmission. "If it happened once, okay; but if the person
continues to practice unprotected sex even while knowing that he or she
is infected, I think it's on purpose," she told IRIN/PlusNews.
cases of sexual transmission, Campos worries that such a law would only
deepen the damaging perception that people who contract the virus are
victims and those who give it to them are their executioners.
is no such thing as a victim; people are the subjects of their own life
stories," Campos said. "Sex is a two-person relationship, in which
responsibility is necessarily shared."
In cases of
mother-to-child HIV transmission, Campos said criminalisation could set
a precedent for children to take their parents to court. He cited a
case in Florida, in the United States, where a boy sued his mother for
giving him HIV. "Parents will feel intimidated about revealing their
condition. All this does is feed the chain of stigma and
a country where people often don't reveal their HIV-positive status out
of a very real fear of rejection, Campos argued that criminalisation
would only heighten such fears, and mentioned the example of an
HIV-positive woman who became an activist and went public on
television. The residents of her neighbourhood did not want their
district to be shown in the television report.
level of discrimination, how can you expect someone to have the courage
to take the test and then tell their partner?" he said.
intentional transmission could also have the unintentional affect of
discouraging voluntary testing. "People are going to think: 'if there's
a law that says I'm going to be penalised, it's better not to know my
HIV status'," Campos said.
António Coelho, director of the
AIDS Service Organisation Network (Anaso), believes a more practical
approach to breaking the chain of HIV transmission is to counsel people
on how to change their behaviour.