health law

Should Malawi Make it a Crime to Knowingly Spread HIV?

Malawi already has some terrible legal issues. But is making the knowing transmission of HIV a crime such a terrible idea?

Already, a number of American states treat purposeful HIV transmission — or just being HIV-positive and having unprotected sex without informing your partner — a criminal act. A proposed law in Malawi, where an estimated 12 percent of the population is HIV-positive, would do the same, making it a punishable offense to knowingly spread HIV to someone else.

And the ones offering the loudest criticism of the bill? Sex workers. This is the reasoning:

Under the new legislation, sex workers would be liable to prosecution should they fail to disclose their HIV-positive status to their partner or a client and then go on to infect them with the disease. They argue that by being forced to disclose their status, they risk losing their partners and clients.

“The social circumstances and the law combine to place [a sex worker] in a cruel dilemma,” a protester at a recent demonstration against the bill told Malawi’s Nyasa Times newspaper. “If she discloses to her partner that she is HIV positive, she risks losing everything. If she does not disclose, she risks prosecution on criminal charges.”

Not to put a damper on prostitution — which we readily acknowledge is, sadly, often the only way some impoverished folks can earn cash to support a family — but ya know what? If you know you’re HIV positive, meet a a john, and don’t tell him you’re carrying the virus before you have sex? Then you’re a fucking asshole. The risk of losing clients simply does not trump someone else’s physical health, or the physical health of anyone else that person has sex with.

[photo via]

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  • Matthew

    I’m not familiar with Malawi law, but perhaps the alternative solution would be to legalize sex work and/or distribute condoms to women and men who engage in sex work. There will still be issues that come up, clients may exert power over the women to force them not to use condoms. However, HIV risk will go down. Queerty is being overly ignorant to the complex social psychology that goes with sex work.
    I think perhaps they’re not the people whose opinions are worth much on this matter (but then again, neither am I). This is often true with Queerty though and it’s never stopped them before.

  • Edwin

    I totally agree with Matthew. Unfortunately, the BBC article you based your blog post on is confused and badly written. I am familiar with the proposed Malawi law, which not only potentially criminalises non-disclosure before sex by all people who test HIV-positive, but also singles out sex workers for mandatory testing. Fewer than 20% of people with HIV in Malawi actually know their HIV status, and this law will force people underground and put people off from getting tested. This is bad news for HIV prevention, since HIV transmission from the undiagnosed is significantly more of a problem than transmission from people who know their status. This is true in every country in the world, including the US, confirmed by CDC studies. In your ignorance you might think that’s a good idea to force sex workers to be tested for HIV, and to criminalise people who have been responsible enough to know their HIV status for not always being able to disclose their status to their sexual partners (who are equally responsible for protecting themselves). Many governmental organisations, including UNAIDS and UNDP, and many really smart individuals, including Justice Edwin Cameron of South Africa’s Constitution Court, think it’s a bad idea. But who are they compared to you?

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