Mexico: Colima State repeals “danger of contagion” article from its criminal code

The offence of “Danger of Contagion” is removed from the Criminal Code.

Translated with – Scroll down for original article in Spanish

With just 15 votes in favour from Morena deputies and their allies from the New Alliance Party, Labour Party, and the now non-party deputy Rigoberto García Negrete, the State Congress repealed the criminal offence known as “Danger of Contagion”, which criminalised people infected with the HIV virus.

This action was carried out following the presentation of the opinion on the Bill with draft Decree, proposed by Deputy Alfredo Álvarez Ramírez, to reform Articles 77 and 119, and repeal Chapter I of the Seventh Title and Article 212 of the Penal Code for the State of Colima.

The Commission of Legislative Studies and Constitutional Points, in charge of drafting the opinion, emphasised that the measure was adopted under a guaranteeing vision and in response to the demand of different social groups to end discrimination.

The elimination of the criminal offence “Danger of Contagion” from the Criminal Code for the State of Colima was justified by the fact that it violated the human rights of people with contagious diseases, stigmatising them and unfairly turning them into victims and perpetrators.

During the “Ninth Youth Parliament 2023”, in which 25 young people from the state participated, initiatives in favour of various social sectors were presented. This reform took up the research and proposal of youth deputy Roberto Macías Cruz, who argued that the criminalisation of HIV increases the vulnerability of those affected and leads to multiple human rights violations.

According to UN AIDS, more than 3,242 people with HIV have been prosecuted for exposure and transmission of the virus. The initiative argues that criminalising HIV not only fails to stop the epidemic, but also undermines public health prevention efforts, alienating people with the virus.

The Committee stressed that the aim of repealing the “Danger of Contagion” offence is to avoid stigmatisation, discrimination and criminalisation of people with infectious diseases, ensuring the protection of human rights such as equality, non-discrimination and health, principles upheld by the Constitution.

The opinion, when submitted to the plenary for consideration, highlighted that the “Danger of Contagion” offence infringes the rights to equality and non-discrimination of people with diseases, as it criminalises the simple fact of suffering from a contagious disease, increasing stigmatisation and fear towards these people, which undermines human dignity. The commission concluded that the repeal of the criminal offence was feasible, as it discriminates against and unjustly criminalises people with contagious diseases.

The proposal to reform articles 77 and 119, and to repeal Chapter I of Title Seven and Article 212 of the Penal Code for the State of Colima, was put to a vote without the consensus of all parliamentary groups. After a recess and discussions, an agreement was reached to approve the reforms with the support of Morena and its allies.

The PAN and PRI deputies did not vote in favour, while those of Movimiento Ciudadano abstained. Finally, by a margin of 15 votes, the repeal of the criminal offence “Danger of Contagion” was approved, marking a step forward in the protection of the human rights of people with contagious diseases, by avoiding their stigmatisation and criminalisation.

Eliminan del Código Penal el delito denominado “Peligro de Contagio

Con apenas 15 votos a favor de los diputados de Morena y sus aliados del Partido Nueva Alianza, Partido del Trabajo, y del ahora diputado sin partido Rigoberto García Negrete, el Congreso del Estado derogó el delito penal conocido como “Peligro de Contagio”, que criminalizaba a las personas infectadas por el virus del VIH.

Esa acción se llevó a cabo tras presentarse el dictamen sobre la Iniciativa de Ley con proyecto de Decreto, propuesta por el Diputado Alfredo Álvarez Ramírez, para reformar los artículos 77 y 119, y derogar el Capítulo I del Título Séptimo y el Artículo 212 del Código Penal para el Estado de Colima.

La Comisión de Estudios Legislativos y Puntos Constitucionales, encargada de elaborar el dictamen, destacó que la medida se adoptó bajo una visión garantista y respondiendo a la demanda de distintos grupos sociales por acabar con la discriminación.

La eliminación del tipo penal “Peligro de Contagio” del Código Penal para el Estado de Colima se justificó por vulnerar los derechos humanos de las personas con enfermedades contagiosas, estigmatizándolas y convirtiéndolas injustamente en víctimas y victimarios.

Durante el “Noveno Parlamento de las Juventudes 2023”, donde participaron 25 jóvenes del estado, se presentaron iniciativas en favor de varios sectores sociales. Esa reforma retomó la investigación y propuesta del diputado juvenil Roberto Macías Cruz, quien argumentó que la criminalización del VIH aumenta la vulnerabilidad de las personas afectadas y conduce a múltiples violaciones de derechos humanos.

Según ONU SIDA, más de 3,242 personas con VIH han sido procesadas por exposición y transmisión del virus. La iniciativa sostiene que criminalizar el VIH no solo no detiene la epidemia, sino que también debilita los esfuerzos de prevención de salud pública, alienando a las personas con el virus.

La Comisión Dictaminadora subrayó que el objetivo de derogar el delito de “Peligro de Contagio” es evitar la estigmatización, discriminación y criminalización de las personas con enfermedades contagiosas, asegurando la protección de los derechos humanos como la igualdad, la no discriminación y la salud, principios sostenidos por la Constitución.

El dictamen, al someterse a consideración del pleno, resaltó que el delito “Peligro de Contagio” infringe los derechos a la igualdad y no discriminación de las personas con enfermedades, ya que criminaliza el simple hecho de padecer una enfermedad contagiosa, aumentando la estigmatización y el temor hacia estas personas, lo cual atenta contra la dignidad humana. La comisión concluyó que la derogación del tipo penal era viable, pues discrimina y criminaliza injustamente a las personas portadoras de enfermedades contagiosas.

La propuesta de reformar los artículos 77 y 119, y derogar el Capítulo I del Título Séptimo y el Artículo 212 del Código Penal para el Estado de Colima, fue sometida a votación sin el consenso de todos los grupos parlamentarios. Tras un receso y discusiones, se logró un acuerdo para aprobar las reformas con el apoyo de Morena y sus aliados.

Los diputados del PAN y PRI no votaron a favor, mientras que los de Movimiento Ciudadano se abstuvieron. Finalmente, por un margen de 15 votos, se aprobó la derogación del tipo penal “Peligro de Contagio”, marcando un paso adelante en la protección de los derechos humanos de las personas con enfermedades contagiosas, al evitar su estigmatización y criminalización.

US: New report published on the enforcement of HIV criminalisation in Ohio

‘Antiquated’ and unscientific laws enforced against Ohioans living with HIV: Report

Across the country, a growing coalition of advocates is pushing to repeal or update state laws that criminalize people living with HIV or AIDS.

In Ohio, six laws on the books either criminalize certain acts – including sex – for people living with HIV or substantially increase sentences for them compared to people who do not have the virus.

Most of the laws were passed decades ago, fueled by fear, absent scientific understanding about how HIV is transmitted and before advancements in HIV-related treatment were widely introduced. Laws still remain in place in 34 states.

There are no national reporting requirements that track arrests or prosecutions under the laws. Until now, it was unclear how frequently Ohio prosecutors have charged people under the laws, which also apply to people living with hepatitis or tuberculosis.

A report released today by Equality Ohio and the Ohio Health Modernization Movement (OHMM), two groups pushing for legal reform, reveals that more than half of the prosecutions over a six-year period were for acts – such as spitting or throwing bodily fluids – that were unlikely to transmit HIV. It also found a disproportionate number of people charged were Black compared to Ohio’s overall population of Black residents.

“Ohio is unique in that these antiquated laws are actually being utilized and enforced against everyday Ohioans who are living with HIV,” Kate Mozynski, an attorney with Equality Ohio and one of the co-authors of the report told the Buckeye Flame.

In 2022, about 25,000 people in Ohio had an HIV diagnosis. The rate of Black residents diagnosed with HIV was more than six times the rate of white residents.

The groups spent three years gathering information from prosecutors and courts in all 88 Ohio counties and identified 214 cases charged under the six laws. Often, the records lacked or had conflicting information on race or ethnicity, and the gender captured in law enforcement records didn’t always reflect a person’s gender identity.

That prevents researchers from fully understanding the impact that these laws are having on some of the most vulnerable populations in Ohio, including LQBTQ+ people, people experiencing incarceration and people of color, according to the report. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that laws criminalizing HIV exposure are outdated and may discourage testing, increase stigma and exacerbate disparities in Black and Latino communities.

Cuyahoga County had the highest number of charges

 The report found that:

  • Prosecutions are concentrated in Ohio’s more populous counties, including Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Franklin and Lucas counties.
  • Cuyahoga County charged four times the number of people under the six laws than Franklin County, which has a higher population and more people living with HIV and AIDS. Cuyahoga County accounted for 26% of the cases identified.
  • The largest share of prosecutions involved Black men, based on recorded race and gender included in records.

A separate Marshall Project review of prosecutions under the six laws in Cuyahoga County from 2016 through 2022 examined 36 charges involving 35 defendants. That doesn’t didn’t include charges for solicitation, prostitution or loitering, which are generally misdemeanor crimes.

The cases involved 18 law enforcement agencies, including three hospital police departments and public transit police.

The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office, which decides whether to prosecute felony cases under Ohio’s laws, said these charges are determined on a “case-by-case basis” after considering input from victims, according to Lexi Bauer, communications manager. Bauer noted that the majority of the “harassment by bodily fluid” charges in recent years were related to hepatitis and not HIV.

Ohio penalties among the harshest

Ohio’s laws remain among the harshest when it comes to HIV criminalization, not just based on the conduct that is criminalized but also the penalties, said Jada Hicks, staff attorney for The Center for HIV Law and Policy.

In Ohio, people living with HIV (or viral hepatitis or tuberculosis) can be charged whether or not they:

  • Engaged in sex practices or other acts that could transmit the virus.
  • Transmitted HIV.
  • Used protection, such as condoms and/or dental dams.
  • Had an undetectable level of virus in their blood and were unable to transmit HIV.

Most of the charges examined in the report fall under two Ohio laws.

One law makes it a crime for a person living with HIV (or hepatitis or tuberculosis) to “harass” someone with their bodily fluids. That would include spitting or throwing urine, feces or blood at another person.

Under the other law, a person can be charged with felonious assault if they have sex with another person without telling them that they are living with HIV.

The penalties for failing to disclose HIV status in Ohio are stiff regardless of whether the virus was actually transmitted or whether it was even possible for a person to transmit the virus. Possible sentences for individuals living with HIV can be anywhere from two to 29 times longer than those for Ohioans who are HIV-negative.

Ohio is also one of six states that require individuals convicted under one of these statutes to register as a sex offender.

“Ohio’s HIV laws don’t require actual transmission or even the intent to transmit,” said Nathan Cisneros, a researcher with the Williams Institute, which does legal and public policy research on sexual orientation and gender identity. “Conduct that couldn’t transmit HIV – like spitting and biting, loitering while having a conversation about sex work – can land you in prison.”

The Williams Institute also published a report today that looked at arrests under Ohio’s six laws over two decades and felony prosecutions in Cuyahoga County from 2009 to 2022. Researchers identified at least 530 separate allegations under the six laws since 2000. Having consensual sex without disclosing an HIV-positive status made up nearly half of the total cases. Incidents related to sex work and bodily fluid exposure each accounted for nearly one-fifth of the total.

Changing legal landscape

Thirteen states have either repealed or modernized their HIV laws, according to the Center for HIV Law and Policy, including Illinois in 2021 and New Jersey in 2022.

Ohio advocates have been at the forefront of efforts to challenge the laws as discriminatory. In 2022, the Center for HIV Law and Policy filed a complaint with the Department of Justice on behalf of people living with HIV in Ohio and Tennessee.

In December, the DOJ notified Tennessee it was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by enforcing the state law that increases penalties for people convicted of prostitution if they also have HIV. On Feb. 15, the Justice Department filed charges against the state in federal court..

Combing state records for HIV-related charges

OHMM researchers gathered information from county-level online court records and local county clerk and prosecutors’ offices in Ohio’s 88 counties for a six-year period ending in 2020. The project identified 214 cases prosecuted under the six laws.

Behind each one of the cases, there is a “real, everyday Ohioan who happens to have a medical condition,” Mozynski said.

Where in Ohio are people being charged?

The highest concentration of charges are in the state’s larger metropolitan areas.

  • 26% in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland)
  • 12% in Hamilton County (Cincinnati)
  • 7% in Lucas County (Toledo)
  • 7% in Franklin County (Columbus)
  • Montgomery (Dayton) and Warren (Lebanon) counties, about 5% each.

What charges are most common?

More than half of the cases identified were for the charge of “harassment with a bodily substance,” which carries with it a penalty of up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Cases with this charge are often related to acts against law enforcement or corrections officers or healthcare workers.

Charges don’t distinguish between bodily fluids that can transmit HIV, such as blood, and those that do not, such as saliva, urine or feces. People can also be charged if they are living with hepatitis, regardless of whether it is transmitted.

Prosecutors also don’t have to prove whether a person is capable of transmitting the virus or determine whether it is scientifically impossible to transmit the virusdue to prescription-drug treatments that have reduced the presence of the virus in a person’s blood – called a viral load – to undetectable levels.

A third of the cases were for “felonious assault,” which carries the most severe penalty of any HIV-related charge – up to eight years of incarceration and a $15,000 fine. Each sexual act can be charged separately. It also doesn’t require that the virus be transmitted.

OHMM found no cases where people were charged with “selling or donating contaminated blood.” The Williams Institute found six arrests over a 20 year period related to blood donation.

Read the OHMM (“Enforcement of HIV Criminalization in Ohio: Analysis of Court Cases from 2014 to 2020”) report here.

Read the Williams report (“Enforcement of HIV Criminalization in Ohio HIV-related criminal incidents from 2000 to 2022”) here.

US: Tennesee lawmakers end sex offender registry requirement for HIV+ sex workers, clearing path for removal from registry

TN Lawmakers vote to remove sex offender registry requirement for Law criminalizing sex workers with HIV

By Katie Riordan

State lawmakers have voted to no longer require sex offender registration for someone convicted under the state’s decades-old aggravated prostitution law, which only affects sex workers who are HIV positive. The legislation also allows those on the registry for the offense to have their names removed.

The measure overwhelmingly passed the state house on Thursday with bipartisan support after clearing the senate earlier this month.

The vote takes place as the Department of Justice and advocacy groups have sued Tennessee over enforcement its aggravated prostitution statute. The criminal code raises a misdemeanor prostitution charge to a felony if the sex worker knowingly has HIV.

Critics have long pointed out that no actual sex act has to take place and the law does not take into account modern advances in treatment and prevention of HIV.

Under the newly passed legislation, aggravated prostitution remains a felony, but it strikes down a separate penalty requiring those convicted to register as a violent sex offender for life.

The bill also allows those on the registry for the crime to petition to be removed, as long as they aren’t listed for another offense. Additionally, victims of sex trafficking can ask the court to expunge their record.

The Nashville-based non-profit, Thistle Farms, which provides services to survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction, backed the legislation.

The organization initially asked for a complete repeal of the aggravated prostitution law, but Amanda Clelland, director of communications and advocacy, says the amended bill lawmakers agreed to still removes “insurmountable” barriers that the sex offender registry creates.

The registry’s restrictionson where someone can work and live, Clelland says, hinders the ability to escape a life of exploitation and sex work.

“It really just kind of perpetuates a system where folks aren’t able to leave, even though they want to,” she says. “By law they are just continuously put back into these situations where they’re unable to access the services or even the safe space to start that rebuilding process.”

About 80 people are listed on the sex offender registry for an aggravated prostitution violation, according to research released in 2022 from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. The study also found that most are in Shelby County and are Black women.

Clelland says the bill’s passing signals an openness to offering support to trafficked people and sex workers instead of further criminalizing them.

“Those doors have been closed to them for years, and those doors are finally going to start reopening, and it’s exciting, and it’s just full of a lot of possibility,” she says.

The legislation will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to decide whether to sign off on it.

State legislators made aggravated prostitution a crime in 1991 at a time when effective treatment for HIV was still limited. They followed up in 1994 with a criminal exposure law that makes it a felony for anyone not to disclose a diagnosis to an intimate partner.

Last session, the legislature removed a sex offender registry requirement for an exposure charge.

Outside of lawmakers actions, the Department of Justice is suing the state to stop enforcing the aggravated prostitution statute. The DOJ’s lawsuit argues it violates a federal anti-discrimination law by creating stiffer penalties for people living with HIV.


US: Report by the Williams Institute examines the enforcement of HIV criminalisation laws in Mississipp

HIV criminal laws lopsided impact on Black men in Mississippi

A new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds that at least 43 people in Mississippi were arrested for HIV-related crimes between 2004 and 2021. Half of all arrests in the state happened between 2017 and 2021.

The HIV epidemic and Mississippi’s HIV-related criminal laws disproportionately impact men, and Black men in particular. Men make up 49% of Mississippi’s population, 71% of people living with HIV (PLWH), and 72% of HIV-related arrests. Black men comprise 18% of the state’s population and 50% of PLWH. However, they make up 47% of HIV-related arrests.

Researchers analyzed data obtained from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. Findings show that the enforcement of HIV criminal laws is concentrated around the state’s capital and most populous city, Jackson, and near the Gulf Coast. Almost 20% of arrests occurred in three counties: Harrison (15%), Hinds (13%), and Lamar (11%).

HIV criminalization is a term used to describe laws that either criminalize otherwise legal conduct or increase the penalties for illegal conduct based on a person’s HIV-positive status. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. states and territories currently have laws that criminalize people living with HIV.

Mississippi has two HIV criminal laws. The knowing exposure law makes it a felony to knowingly expose another person to HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. Mississippi’s endangerment by bodily substance law makes it a misdemeanor to attempt to expose or expose anyone at a correctional facility to bodily fluids. However, if someone knows their HIV or hepatitis status, the crime is upgraded to a felony punishable by 3 to 10 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

“Mississippi’s criminal laws do not require the actual transmission of HIV, the intent to transmit, or even conduct that can lead to the transmission of HIV,” said lead study author Nathan Cisneros, HIV Criminalization Project Director at the Williams Institute. “We now have medical treatments that wholly eliminate the risk of transmitting HIV through sex, yet these advances are not reflected in Mississippi’s laws.”

Mississippi’s 2021 Ending the HIV Epidemic Plan called for reform of the state’s HIV criminal laws to align with modern HIV medicine.

“HIV criminal laws perpetuate stigma and can discourage testing and treatment,” said co-author Brad Sears, Founding Executive Director at the Williams Institute. “That’s why many national and state organizations, including the American Medical Association, have called for a repeal of these laws.”

This report is part of a series of reports examining the ongoing impact of state HIV criminalization laws on people living with HIV.

Read the report

Slovakia: Ministry of Health asked to reconsider mandatory HIV reporting in medical facilities

HIV reporting obligations in Slovakia: patient advocacy for change in criminal code

In Slovakia, HIV-positive patients are obliged to report their diagnosis in medical facilities. This arises from the Criminal Code, otherwise you could face penalties for spreading a dangerous disease. Patients and some experts draw attention to the advanced treatment methods, which mean that this obligation should no longer be necessary. The Ministry of Health is currently not planning to change the current regulations, but is open to a discussion about it.

Jan Koller is one of the patients with this diagnosis. His life has been changed by HIV, not because of the treatment, but because of people’s prejudices: “There is a significant stigma associated with this disease. I was faced with rejection from doctors myself. We don’t pose a risk to anyone.”

This is also why Jan Koller founded a non-profit organization to help others with this disease. Some healthcare providers may have reservations or uncertainties about treating people with HIV. While Danica Staneková from the National Reference Center for HIV and AIDS Prevention understands the concerns of health workers, she reminds that patients could also go to an outpatient clinic or hospital without knowing that they are HIV-positive. Therefore, every patient should be treated as potentially infected and infectious. According to Staneková, it would at least be appropriate not to consider HIV as a special diagnosis, as is the case in the Criminal Code. The spread of HIV and other dangerous infections is listed there. However, HIV can now be treated in the same way as hepatitis B, for example, although this disease does not represent a special diagnosis in the criminal code.

HIV patients are demanding that they no longer have to legally report their diagnosis under threat of criminal prosecution. As long as the disease is treated with modern means, it poses no danger to other people, says infectiologist Peter Sabaka: “Some countries have already initiated such changes in jurisprudence. Thanks to treatment, such patients have no detectable viral load. You can therefore actually be viewed as not infected in terms of the risk of infection and therefore the need to report. I can’t give a clear answer at the moment as to whether this should also be the case in Slovakia.”

There are approximately 1,600 people living with HIV in Slovakia. In 2023, 140 new cases were added.

Ecuador: New Bill proposes 1-3 years in prison for transmission of an infectious disease

Assembly members propose jailing anyone who spreads infections such as HIV/AIDS with intent

Translated from Spanish via Scroll down for original article in Spanish.

Assembly members propose jailing anyone who spreads infections such as HIV/AIDS with intent: can the transmitter be identified with certainty?

The COIP reform is rejected by civil society organisations because it criminalises those living with sexually transmitted diseases.
The report for the second debate on the draft Organic Law Reforming the Comprehensive Organic Penal Code (COIP) includes a reform that punishes with 1-3 years in prison anyone who intentionally spreads an infectious disease, such as that caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or syphilis, in a sexual relationship; that is, when the transmitter has prior knowledge of his or her state of health.

The proposal criminalises anyone who “has sexual intercourse with another person without informing that person of his or her infected status”. Infectious diseases also include hepatitis B, gonorrhoea, among others.
This change is maintained in the report for the second debate in the plenary approved by ten of the Assembly members who are part of the Justice Commission.

The bill brings together 38 previously presented reform proposals. Hence, it is a wide range that covers this issue that involves public health and others, such as drug trafficking crimes, usury, extortion, cattle rustling and more possibilities at the time of investigating certain crimes.

A UNAIDS technical note issued on 15 February 2024 states that “there is no evidence that criminalisation of HIV transmission has public health benefits” and that “the proposed bill may undermine effective responses to HIV in Ecuador”.
Furthermore, the statement adds, “criminalisation of HIV exposure or transmission may lead to a miscarriage of justice”.
The application of laws criminalising HIV exposure or transmission can lead to “serious miscarriages of justice and other related problems,” the agency notes, including the following:

– Selective application of the law.
– Difficulty with evidence and testimony.
– Breach of confidentiality and privacy.
– Uninformed assessment of the risk and harm of HIV infection.

“It is feared that prosecution for HIV exposure or transmission may deter people living with HIV or those at higher risk of HIV infection from seeking HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services,” the report notes, precisely “for fear of prosecution”.

But is this reform enforceable and can it effectively determine who transmitted the virus?

Infectiologist Washington Aleman says the issue of criminalisation of sexual transmission of HIV/AIDS is not new. “It’s something old: it arose 40 years ago, when the pandemic was first diagnosed. Now we know the diseases much better, and these kinds of repressive methods are not conducive to fighting this pandemic. Repressing, imprisoning or persecuting is not the way to fight an infectious disease. Education is the way.

It is impossible, the specialist adds, to determine exactly who is infecting whom, especially in developing countries such as Ecuador.
“If tomorrow you have sexual activity with ten people without any precautions and four of them have HIV, how are you going to know who infected you? And the second thing is a question of which word carries more weight, because it would be a confrontation between two people who would accuse each other. So these are confusing scenarios.

The use of condoms, even more so in a casual relationship, is the action that should be applied to prevent venereal diseases as part of a personal decision.

“Do you think a person who has sporadic and transient relationships is going to tell their HIV status even if they are? It’s not going to happen. So you have to be practical and maintain proper self-care,” adds Alemán.
The latter goes hand in hand with the undetectable status of people living with HIV, a status that is achieved with access to retroviral treatment. In this situation, the virus is not transmitted, he adds.

Infectious disease specialist Milton Chang points out that the application would be a play on words between the accuser and the accused. On the medical side, in developed countries it is possible to analyse all the characteristics of the virus and see if they correspond, but it is complex and in Ecuador there is no technology.

“To test for resistance to the antiretrovirals (HIV treatment) we use in Ecuador, we have to send the samples to Colombia, because it is not possible here in the country, sequencing a virus to say that it is exactly the same as the one someone else has is more complex, but it is possible,” says Chang.

There is a window period to know if the virus was contracted from the time of exposure, which ranges from four to ten days, he adds. “Current tests have shortened this period, which used to be one month, with the fourth-generation elisa tests.
The problem would be determining how long each person has had HIV in their system if both people are just finding out, as this is highly variable depending on the immune system. “It would be difficult to determine who infected whom.

Specialist Chang believes that morally, people living with HIV should inform their sexual partners of their HIV status.
Alarming rise in reported HIV cases in Ecuador, where there are 45,078 people with the disease: Fear of discrimination limits access to medical services
Transmission through sharps accidents is low-risk, says Alemán, because it is not direct from blood to someone’s vein. “In these pricks with an infected needle we have to evaluate and, according to that, give preventive treatment; but the risk is below 0.01%, it is not a frequent practice of HIV transmission”.

The HIV virus lives inside the cell, it is thermolabile (easily altered by the action of heat); that is, when it leaves the body to the environment it dissects easily, explains Alemán.The risk is higher with blood transfusions and sharing syringes for injecting drugs.

Reform is difficult to implement
From a legal point of view, says criminal lawyer Julio César Cueva, the reform would be difficult to implement. “The problem, more than anything else, is strictly evidentiary. It would be a ‘You told me’ and ‘You didn’t tell me’. You are going to be intimate with someone and, just in case: ‘Sign here that you told me’. It’s difficult.
There are people who don’t know they have the disease and find out when the partner they were with later discovers it after a test. “The accused will say they didn’t know they had it,” he adds.

Cueva says that the reform responds to the fact that there are people who do know their HIV status and have unprotected sex with other people on purpose. Even if its application is not effective, he says, it is better to have such a measure in the COIP: “It is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. You don’t know what kind of new infections will come out in the future.

The Ecuadorian Federation of LGBT+ Organisations (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and the rest of gender diversity) rejects the specific proposal to criminalise the sexual transmission of infections. “The article in question seeks to criminalise the transmission of HIV/AIDS, which represents a serious threat to the human rights of people living with the disease,” it said in a statement.

Diane Rodriguez, National Director of the LGBT+ Federation, points out that the approach is contrary to paragraph 2 of Article 11 of the Constitution, which “recognises equality between all persons, without anyone being discriminated against for any distinction, personal or collective, such as living with HIV”.

“The criminalisation of HIV/AIDS transmission has been widely criticised by international organisations, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS),” the activist adds.
The criminalisation of HIV/AIDS and the way it is being treated publicly will only increase stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV/AIDS, says Rodriguez: “There is no scientific evidence that criminalisation of HIV/AIDS is effective in preventing transmission of the virus.

The UN/AIDS report highlights possible consequences, such as putting women at greater risk of criminal prosecution because they are the first to know their HIV status due to the routine offer of HIV testing in antenatal care settings. “Therefore, women who first become aware of their HIV status may be blamed for ‘introducing HIV into the relationship’ and face prosecution for HIV transmission or exposure.”

Asambleístas proponen encarcelar a quien propague infecciones como VIH/sida con intención: ¿se puede identificar con certeza al que transmite?

La reforma al COIP es rechazada por las organizaciones de la sociedad civil debido a que criminaliza a los que viven con enfermedades de transmisión sexual.

El informe para segundo debate del proyecto de Ley Orgánica Reformatoria al Código Orgánico Integral Penal (COIP) incluye una reforma que sanciona con 1-3 años de cárcel a quien propague una enfermedad infectocontagiosa, como la que causa el virus de inmunodeficiencia humana (VIH) o la sífilis, en una relación sexual de manera intencionada; es decir, cuando quien transmite conoce previamente su estado de salud.

En la propuesta se criminaliza a quien “mantenga relaciones sexuales con otra persona sin informarle de la condición de infectado”. Entre las enfermedades infecciosas está también la hepatitis B, gonorrea, entre otras.

Este cambio se mantiene en el informe para segundo debate en el pleno aprobado por diez de los asambleístas que son parte de la Comisión de Justicia.

El proyecto aglutina a 38 planteamientos de reforma presentados previamente. De ahí que es un abanico amplio que abarca este tema que involucra a la salud pública y otros, como los delitos del narcotráfico, usura, extorsión, abigeato y más posibilidades en el momento de investigar ciertos delitos.

Una nota técnica de ONUSIDA emitida el 15 de febrero de 2024 indica que “no hay evidencia de que la criminalización de la transmisión del VIH tenga beneficios para la salud pública” y que “el proyecto de ley propuesto puede socavar las respuestas efectivas al VIH en Ecuador”.

Además, agrega el comunicado, “la penalización de la exposición o transmisión del VIH puede conducir a un error judicial”.

La aplicación de leyes que penalizan la exposición o transmisión del VIH puede provocar “graves errores judiciales y otros problemas relacionados”, señala el organismo, como los siguientes:

  1. Aplicación selectiva de la ley.
  2. Dificultad con las pruebas y los testimonios.
  3. Violación de la confidencialidad y la privacidad.
  4. Evaluación desinformada del riesgo y daño de la infección por el VIH.

“Se teme que el enjuiciamiento por exposición o transmisión del VIH pueda disuadir a las personas que viven con el VIH o a las que corren mayor riesgo de contraer la infección por el VIH de buscar servicios de prevención, tratamiento, atención y apoyo relacionados con el VIH”, señala el informe, justamente “por temor a ser procesados”.

¿Pero es aplicable esta reforma y se puede determinar con efectividad quién transmitió el virus?

El infectólogo Washington Alemán afirma que el tema de la criminalización de la transmisión sexual del VIH/sida no es nuevo. “Es algo viejo: surgió hace 40 años, cuando recién la pandemia fue diagnosticada. Ahora conocemos mucho mejor las enfermedades, y este tipo de métodos represivos no favorecen la lucha contra esta pandemia. Reprimir, encarcelar o perseguir no es el camino para luchar contra una enfermedad infecciosa. El camino es la educación”.

Es imposible, agrega el especialista, lograr determinar con exactitud quién contagia a determinada persona, sobre todo en los países en vías de desarrollo, como Ecuador.

“Si mañana se tiene actividad sexual con diez personas sin medidas de cuidado y, de esas, cuatro tenían VIH, ¿cómo vas a saber quién te infectó? Y lo segundo es una cuestión de qué palabra pesa más, porque sería un careo entre dos personas que se acusarían entre sí. Entonces, son escenarios que generan confusión”.

El uso del preservativo, más aún en una relación ocasional, es la acción que debe aplicarse para prevenir las enfermedades venéreas como parte de una decisión personal.

“¿Crees que una persona que mantiene relaciones esporádicas y transitorias va a decir su estado serológico aunque lo sea? No sucederá. Entonces, hay que ser prácticos y mantener el cuidado personal adecuado”, agrega Alemán.

Esto último va de la mano de la condición de indetectable de los portadores del VIH, estado que se consigue con el acceso al tratamiento retroviral. En esa situación no se transmite el virus, añade el médico.

También hay otros métodos de prevención, como la profilaxis preexposición (PrEP) y profilaxis posexposición (PEP).

El infectólogo Milton Chang indica que en la aplicación se daría un juego de palabras entre el que acusa y el acusado. En la parte médica, en los países desarrollados se pueden analizar todas las características del virus y ver si corresponden, pero es algo complejo y en Ecuador no hay la tecnología.

“Si para probar resistencia a los antirretrovirales (tratamiento para el VIH) que usamos en Ecuador tenemos que enviar las muestras a Colombia, porque acá en el país no es posible, secuenciar un virus para decir que es exactamente el mismo que tiene otra persona es más complejo, pero sí se puede”, dice Chang.

Hay un periodo de ventana para conocer si se contrajo el virus desde que se dio la exposición, que va de cuatro a diez días, agrega. “Las pruebas actuales han achicado este periodo, que antes era de un mes, con las pruebas elisa de cuarta generación”.

El problema estaría en determinar qué tiempo ha tenido cada persona el VIH en su organismo en el caso de que las dos personas recién se estén enterando, ya que eso es muy variable según el sistema inmunológico. “Sería complicado determinar quién contagió a quién”.

El historial médico finalmente puede determinar desde cuando una persona conoce que tiene el virus.

Y si el posible acusador, pues, comprueba que no lo tenía con alguna prueba previa a la exposición.

El especialista Chang cree que moralmente las personas que viven con VIH deben informar a sus parejas sexuales su estado serológico.

La transmisión a través de accidentes cortopunzantes es de bajo riesgo, dice Alemán, porque no es directo de la sangre a la vena de alguien. “En estos pinchazos con una aguja infectada hay que evaluar y, de acuerdo a eso, dar un tratamiento preventivo; pero el riesgo está por debajo del 0,01 %, no es una práctica frecuente de transmisión de VIH”.

El virus del VIH vive dentro de la célula, es termolábil (que se altera fácilmente por la acción del calor); es decir, al salir del cuerpo al medioambiente se diseca fácilmente, explica Alemán.

El riesgo sí es mayor en las transfusiones de sangre y al compartir jeringas para la inyección de drogas.

La reforma es difícil de aplicar

Desde el punto de vista jurídico, dice el penalista Julio César Cueva, la reforma sería difícil de aplicar. “El problema más que nada es estrictamente probatorio. Sería un ‘Me dijiste’ y ‘No me dijiste’. Se va a tener intimidad con alguien y, por si acaso: ‘Firma aquí que me dijiste’. Es difícil”.

Hay personas que no saben que tienen la enfermedad y se enteran cuando la pareja con la que estuvieron después lo descubre tras una prueba. “El acusado dirá que no sabía que lo tenía”, añade.

Cueva asegura que la reforma responde a que sí hay personas que conocen su estado serológico y mantienen relaciones con otras personas sin protección a propósito. Más allá de que su aplicación no sea efectiva, precisa, es mejor tener en el COIP una medida de este tipo: “Es mejor tenerla y no necesitarla que necesitarla y no tenerla. No se sabe qué tipo de infecciones nuevas saldrán a futuro”.

La Federación Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones LGBT+ (lesbianas, gais, bisexuales, trans y el resto de la diversidad sexo-genérica) rechaza la propuesta específica de penalizar la transmisión sexual de infecciones. “El artículo en mención busca criminalizar la transmisión del VIH/sida, lo que representa una grave amenaza para los derechos humanos de las personas que viven con esta enfermedad”, señala en un comunicado.

Diane Rodríguez, directora nacional de la Federación LGBT+, indica que el planteamiento es contrario al numeral 2 del art. 11 de la Constitución, que “reconoce la igualdad entre todas las personas, sin que nadie pueda ser discriminado por cualquier distinción, personal o colectiva, como por ejemplo vivir con VIH”.

“La tipificación de la transmisión del VIH/sida como delito ha sido ampliamente criticada por organismos internacionales, como la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS) y ONUSIDA (Programa Conjunto de las Naciones Unidas sobre el VIH/Sida)”, añade la activista.

La criminalización del VIH/sida y la forma como está siendo tratada públicamente solo aumentará el estigma y la discriminación hacia las personas que viven con VIH/sida, señala Rodríguez: “No existe evidencia científica que demuestre que la criminalización del VIH/sida sea efectiva para prevenir la transmisión del virus”.

El informe de ONU/sida enfoca posibles consecuencias, como poner en mayor riesgo de enjuiciamiento penal a las mujeres porque son las primeras en conocer su estado serológico debido a la oferta rutinaria de pruebas del VIH en los entornos de atención prenatal. “Por lo tanto, las mujeres que se dan cuenta por primera vez de su estado serológico pueden ser culpadas de ‘introducir el VIH en la relación’ y enfrentarse a un proceso judicial por transmisión o exposición al VIH”.

US: Justice Department sues Tennessee over aggravated prostitution statute targeting HIV+ individuals

Justice Department Sues Tennessee for Enforcing State Law that Discriminates Against People with HIV

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit today against the State of Tennessee and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The department previously notified Tennessee and the TBI that they violated the ADA by enforcing the state’s aggravated prostitution statute against people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). That letter of findings detailed the minimum remedial measures necessary to address the discrimination.

“The enforcement of state criminal laws that treat people differently based on HIV status alone and that are not based on actual risks of harm, discriminate against people living with HIV,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “People living with HIV should not be subjected to a different system of justice based on outdated science and misguided assumptions. This lawsuit reflects the Justice Department’s commitment to ensuring that people living with HIV are not targeted because of their disability.”

The department’s investigation found that the state and TBI subject people living with HIV to harsher criminal penalties solely because of their HIV status, violating Title II of the ADA. Tennessee’s aggravated prostitution statute elevates what would otherwise be misdemeanor conduct to a felony because the individual has HIV, regardless of any actual risk of harm. A person convicted of aggravated prostitution faces three to 15 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000, while a person convicted of a misdemeanor charge based on the same conduct is subject to a penalty of no more than six months in prison and up to a $500 fine.

Aggravated prostitution is also categorized as a “violent sexual offense” mandating registration by those convicted on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry, in most cases for life. The state maintains the registry through the TBI. Individuals placed on the registry due to convictions for aggravated prostitution are restricted in where they may live, work and go in public, and have experienced increased homelessness and unemployment. These individuals also face public disclosure of information about their HIV status, which can lead to harassment and discrimination. For example, the complaint identifies one person who has struggled to find safe housing that complies with the registry’s requirements and has experienced periods of homelessness, has been denied employment because she is on the registry, and is prevented from spending time alone with her nephew because of her conviction.

The Justice Department plays a central role in advancing the ADA’s goals of equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. For more information on the Civil Rights Division, please visit For more information on the ADA, please call the department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 1-800-514-0301 (TTY 1-833-610-1264) or visit

Mexico: Initiative to repeal HIV Criminalisation law presented in Mexico State

Morena proposes repealing article 252 of the Penal Code because it is considered an attack on people living with HIV.

Translated with – For original article in Spanish, please scroll down.

The Morena deputy, Beatriz García Villegas, presented in the LXI Legislature, the initiative for a draft decree to repeal article 252 of the Penal Code of the State of Mexico, which describes the crime of “Danger of Contagion”, considering that it violates the right of people to a life without discrimination, especially those living with the Acquired Immune Deficiency Virus (HIV).

In the Casa del Pueblo, after presenting various human rights norms, she stressed that all authorities, within the scope of their competences, have the obligation to promote, respect, protect and guarantee human rights in accordance with the principles of universality, interdependence, indivisibility and progressivity. Consequently, the State must prevent, investigate, punish and redress human rights violations, under the terms established by law.

Despite these legal provisions, the Amecameca legislator indicated that a situation has been identified that violates the living conditions of a sector of our population. According to the website of Amigos Contra el SIDA, serophobia (seropositive – HIV carrier and phobia – fear) “is stigma and discrimination, based on irrational fear towards people who have HIV, avoiding any kind of approach or contact with people who are HIV positive or carriers”.

At the same time, she recalled that the Penal Code for the State of Mexico, in its second subtitle, on crimes against persons in danger, in Chapter I, describes the crime of Danger of Contagion, which reads as follows: Article 252.- Whoever, knowing that he or she suffers from a serious disease in an infectious period, puts another person in danger of contagion, by any means of transmission, will be sentenced to six months to two years in prison and a fine of thirty to sixty days. This offence shall only be prosecuted by complaint of the offended party.

It is argued that this crime violates the right of people, especially those living with the Acquired Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) to a life without discrimination. In other words, the criminal offence of danger of contagion punishes the act by virtue of which a person puts another person at risk of contagion, he emphasised.

She reflected that, although at first one might think that this crime is aimed at protecting people’s general health, the reality has been quite different, as it has been the ideal way to unjustifiably criminalise HIV-positive women, girls, adolescents and people with diverse sexual identities. They have been subjected to criminalisation for the simple fact that they have been diagnosed HIV-positive.

“Danger of contagion” is part of a range of crimes that were incorporated into the criminal law in our country in 1931. At that time, there was a great deal of ignorance about various infections and in general there was a strong influence of moral norms on our legal framework. Scientific advances on a global level have clarified the reality of these infections. According to the National Centre for the Prevention and Control of HIV and AIDS, in communities this infection is still associated with death, promiscuity, homosexuality, infidelity, drug use and irresponsibility, he said.

According to the Federal Health Ministry, in 2023, approximately 13,489 new people were registered with this condition, and in the State of Mexico, the figure reached 1,818 people.

Meanwhile, she added, the Council for the Prevention and Elimination of Discrimination of Mexico City (COPRED), in its Pronouncement published on 24 June 2021, mentions that the incorporation of this crime in the Penal Codes is a product of the lack of knowledge of HIV, as well as the moral prejudices that generate certain behaviours”. This led to punishing those who, by leading “an immoral sex life”, were “foci of infection” and endangered with their mere sexuality those who had “acceptable” morality.

Thus, it is possible to conclude that article 252 of the Penal Code of the State of Mexico has institutionalised serophobia, being a violation of human rights for HIV-positive people, by criminalising the sexual life of this sector of the population, he affirmed.

She pointed out that local legislatures have begun to expel this norm from their legal frameworks, the first entity to repeal this crime was Aguascalientes, then Nayarit and recently it was repealed in Mexico City, so it is considered that under the rules that oblige all public servants to respect, guarantee, protect and promote human rights, it is necessary to repeal the aforementioned criminal offence.

“This is a struggle of various social sectors that have been victims of criminalisation, the crime of danger of contagion is a door to violate the human rights of people with HIV, women, girls, adolescents and people with diverse sexual identities have been the object of this criminalisation, let us also consider situations in which HIV infection is caused by rape, infidelity of the partner, when children are born already infected by the mother during pregnancy and a long etcetera,” he said.

And she called for “closing the door to the continued criminalisation of all these vulnerable groups”. After this, the initiative was referred to the Commission for the Procuration and Administration of Justice, for its study and analysis.

Derogar el artículo 252 del Código Penal por considerar que atenta contra las personas que viven con VIH, propone Morena

La diputada de Morena, Beatriz García Villegas presentó en la LXI Legislatura, la Iniciativa proyecto de Decreto por el que se deroga el artículo 252 del Código Penal del Estado de México, donde se describe el delito de “Peligro de Contagio”, por considerar que atenta contra el derecho de las personas, a una vida sin discriminación, en especial, aquellas que viven con el Virus de la Inmunodeficiencia Adquirida (VIH).

En la Casa del Pueblo, tras exponer diversas normas relativas a los derechos humanos, destacó que todas las autoridades, en el ámbito de sus competencias, tienen la obligación de promover, respetar, proteger y garantizar los derechos humanos de conformidad con los principios de universalidad, interdependencia, indivisibilidad y progresividad. En consecuencia, el Estado deberá prevenir, investigar, sancionar y reparar las violaciones a los derechos humanos, en los términos que establezca la ley.

Pese a estos ordenamientos jurídicos, la legisladora de Amecameca, indicó que se ha logrado identificar una situación que vulnera las condiciones de vida en un sector de nuestra población. Según el portal de Amigos Contra el SIDA, la serofobia (seropositivo- portador VIH y fobia – miedo) “es el estigma y discriminación, basado en el miedo irracional hacia las personas que tienen VIH, evitando cualquier tipo de acercamiento o contacto con las personas que son seropositivas o portadoras”.

A la vez que recordó que, en el Código Penal para el Estado de México, en su subtitulo segundo, sobre delitos en peligro contra las personas, en el capítulo I, se describe el delito de Peligro de Contagio, mismo que a la letra dice: Artículo 252.- A quien sabiendo que padece una enfermedad grave en período infectante, ponga en peligro de contagio a otro, por cualquier medio de transmisión, se le aplicará una pena de seis meses a dos años de prisión y de treinta a sesenta días multa. Este delito sólo se procederá por querella del ofendido.

Se sostiene que este delito atenta contra el derecho de las personas, en especial, aquellas que viven con el Virus de la Inmunodeficiencia Adquirida (VIH) a una vida sin discriminación. Es decir, el tipo penal de peligro de contagio castiga el acto por virtud del cual una persona pone en peligro de contagiar a otra persona, enfatizó.

Reflexionó que, aunque en un primer momento se puede pensar, que este delito va encaminado a proteger la salud general de las personas, la realidad ha sido otra muy distinta, pues ha sido la vía idónea para criminalizar de manera injustificada a las personas portadoras seropositivas mujeres, niñas, adolescentes, y personas con diversas identidades sexuales. A sido sujeto de criminalización por el derecho de ser diagnosticados seropositivos.

“Peligro de contagio” forma parte de una gama de delitos que fueron incorporados a la normatividad penal en nuestro país en el año de 1931. En aquellas épocas, se desconocía bastante en relación a diversas infecciones y en general había una fuerte influencia de las normas morales en nuestro marco legal. Los avances científicos a nivel global han esclarecido cual es la realidad de estas infecciones. Según el Centro Nacional para la Prevención y Control del VIH y el sida, en las comunidades esta infección se sigue relacionando con la muerte, la promiscuidad, la homosexualidad, la infidelidad, el uso de drogas y la irresponsabilidad, detalló.

Según la Secretaría de Salud Federal, en 2023, se registraron aproximadamente 13 489 nuevas personas con este padecimiento y en el Estado de México, la cifra llegó a 1 818 personas.

Mientras que, añadió, el Consejo para Prevenir y Eliminar la Discriminación de la Ciudad de México (COPRED), en su Pronunciamiento publicado el 24 de junio de 2021, menciona que la incorporación de este delito en los Códigos Penales es producto del desconocimiento del VIH, así como como de los prejuicios morales que generan ciertos comportamientos.” Esto llevó a sancionar a quienes, por llevar “una vida sexual inmoral”, eran “focos de infección” y ponían en peligro con su sola sexualidad a quienes tenían una moralidad “aceptable”.

Así, es posible concluir que el artículo 252 del Código Penal del Estado de México, ha institucionalizado la serofobia, siendo una violación de Derechos Humanos para las personas seropositivas, por criminalizar la vida sexual de este sector poblacional, afirmó.

Puntualizó que las legislaturas locales han comenzado a expulsar esta norma de sus marcos legales, la primera entidad que derogó este delito fue Aguascalientes, posteriormente Nayarit y recientemente se derogó en Ciudad de México, por lo que se considera que en virtud de las normas que obligan a todo servidor público a respetar, garantizar, proteger y promover los Derechos Humanos, se vuelve necesaria la derogación del tipo penal mencionado.

“Esta es una lucha de diversos sectores sociales que han sido víctimas de criminalización, el delito de peligro de contagio es una puerta para vulnerar los derechos humanos de las personas con VIH, mujeres, niñas, adolescentes y personas con identidades sexuales diversas han sido el objeto de esta criminalización, consideremos también situaciones que en el contagio del VIH se da por una violación, por una infidelidad de la pareja, cuando los menores nacen ya con contagio de la madre en periodo de gestación y un largo etcétera”, refirió.

Y convocó “cerremos la puerta a que se siga criminalizando a todos estos grupos vulnerables”. Tras esto se remitió la iniciativa a la Comisión de Procuración y Administración de Justicia, para su estudio y análisis.

South Africa: The ongoing struggle of women living with HIV against forced sterilisation in South Africa

The fight for justice for hundreds of HIV-positive SA women who endured forced sterilisation

In 1997, Sethembiso Promise Mthembu was forced into sterilisation by a doctor. Today, she fights for justice for hundreds of women who’ve had similar experiences.

In 1997 Sethembiso Promise Mthembu had to have a routine gynaecological operation. She was in her green hospital gown, on the operating bed, waiting to go into theatre, when the senior doctor came to her and, in front of the other patients and staff in the ward, told her that because she was HIV positive he would not operate unless she consented to be sterilised.

The need for the operation, the vulnerability of her situation, the power dynamic of the patient-doctor relationship and the shame of being judged for her HIV status in front of a room full of nurses, patients and hospital staff, all contributed towards her signing the necessary documents. To this day she does not know if her sterilisation was an ideological decision by the doctor, or a position decided at hospital management or even government level. What she does know is that many other HIV-positive women around the country have been through a similar experience.

In an HSRC study  on stigma in 2014, it was found that of the 6,849 participants who were HIV-positive women, 7.4% reported being forced into sterilisation. That’s over 500 women. A further 5% reported being forced into abortion and 37% said that they were forced into medical contraception.

It is an issue, Sethembiso says, that came to light during the tea breaks of HIV support meetings, whispered in confidence, once personal trust had been gained. For many Black women, their ability to bear children affects their standing in society so being sterile can be a very shameful secret that many women carry with them.

“Women are more likely to disclose their HIV status than to disclose the fact that they were sterilised. You are still a woman even if you have HIV, if you are infertile, you are only half a woman — UyiNyumba (barren) — the worst derogatory label a woman can have.”

In the support sessions, forced sterilisation was not mentioned but, over time, victims would open up to each other in private about their experiences. These ranged from medical complications to cultural, social and financial issues. A sterilised woman loses her ability to build a family which can bring social and financial security, the traditional right to land, lobola and worthiness within relationships.

Sethembiso realised that there was a need for more profound, formal action to be taken to support and seek justice for the inhumane treatment of these many women who are living with the repercussions of this injustice.

n 2009 she started Her Rights Initiative (HRI) along with two other women who were victims of forced sterilisation, a feminist academic and a lawyer. For the past 14, they have been building their networks of victims and working with legal teams to put together a plan of action. They are currently working together with a private international law firm on a class action lawsuit that seeks justice in the form of compensation for 96 women from five provinces around South Africa.

Forced sterilisation is mostly played out through coercion via the dynamics of power and vulnerability rather than physical force, targeting women at a time when they have very little agency in their decisions. However, Sethembiso says, there have been many instances where women did not even know that they had been sterilised and others where women were told after giving birth that suggest even more forceful, violent practices.

The sterilisation mostly happened around pregnancy. It is standard procedure to take full blood tests in the early stages of pregnancy and many HIV-positive women will discover their status at this time. Up until the early 2000s, it was a policy that anyone giving birth who is HIV positive should do so through cesarean section, as the risk of mother-to-child transmission could be mitigated. It was at this point, during this operation that the sterilisation process would take place, either by informed consent, coercive consent or without consent at all.

And according to Sethembiso, it is still occurring today. There is a case, she says, of a young black woman in the Western Cape who was pregnant, HIV positive and suffering from depression who was forcibly sterilised in 2021.

“Let’s talk about it at the beginning of pregnancy rather than initiating the conversation when I am in labour, in a very vulnerable situation. It should be ME who initiates the conversation about contraception and ending my fertility. My Body, My Womb, My Rights and My Decisions.”

Sethembiso herself grew up in uMlazi township outside Durban. She found out her HIV status when she was 20 and, now 49, is considered a long-term survivor, living a healthy life on ARVs for over 20 years. Having started as an “angry activist” in the early 90s, Dr Sethembiso Promise Mthembu completed her PhD in 2022 through UKZN, an accreditation that she says forces people to take her more seriously in her lifelong quest for justice.


US: Tennessee bill drops “violent sex offender” registration requirement for people convicted of aggravated prostitution due to their HIV status

Bill would revise Tennessee’s decades-old law targeting HIV-positive people convicted of sex work

Tennessee would no longer be the only U.S. state to impose a lifetime registration as a “violent sex offender” on anyone convicted of engaging in sex work while living with HIV under a proposal that advanced Tuesday in the legislature.

The controversial statute still on the books is being challenged in federal court by LGBTQ+ and civil rights advocates. They argue that the law stems from the decades-old AIDS scare and discriminates against HIV-positive people. The U.S. Department of Justice has also weighed in on the decades-old law after completing an investigation in December, saying that it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and called on the state to repeal the measure.

However, Republican Sen. Page Walley on Tuesday stopped short of fully removing the law and instead introduced legislation that would remove those convicted of aggravated prostitution of having to register as a violent sex offender.

“It maintains the charge,” Walley said. “But removes the sex offender registration.”

Prostitution has long been criminalized as a misdemeanor in Tennessee. But in 1991, Tennessee lawmakers enacted an even harsher statute that applied only to sex workers living with HIV. Nearly 20 years later, the state legislature revised the law once more by requiring lifetime sex offender registration for those convicted under the controversial statute.

In the years since, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that laws criminalizing HIV exposure — many of which were enacted amid the height of the AIDS epidemic — as outdated and ineffective. Black and Latino communities have been particularly affected by these laws even as the same standards do not apply to other infectious diseases.

Some states have taken steps to repeal their HIV criminal laws, such as Illinois, which repealed all of its HIV-specific criminal laws in 2021. That same year, New Jersey and Virginia repealed all their felony HIV-specific laws.

In Republican-dominant Tennessee, lawmakers have expressed resistance to outright repealing the aggravated prostitution charge. Instead, the GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday agreed to advance a proposal that would drop the lifetime sex offender registration requirement.

Walley described his bill as “anti-trafficking,” arguing that the current framework hurts those who may be victims of sexual assault and hinders attempts to get their lives back on track.

According to court documents, 83 people are currently registered sex offenders for aggravated prostitution convictions in Tennessee. The majority of those convictions took place in Shelby County, which encompasses Memphis. The plaintiffs challenging the law in federal court, all named Jane Doe, have described years of harassment and hardships in finding housing and employment that complies with Tennessee’s violent sex offender registry.

The legislation would still need to clear the full Senate and House chambers before it could make it to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for consideration. The Republican governor has not weighed in publicly on the bill.

Meanwhile, the federal lawsuit is ongoing. It’s currently scheduled to go to trial in 2026.