More Countries Make Spreading HIV a Crime

According to the report HIV: Verdict on a Virus – Public Health, Human Rights and Criminal Law, put out by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, more countries are criminalizing HIV transmission.  The report analyzes the related health, human rights and legal implications.

According to Planned Parenthood, 58 countries worldwide have laws that criminalize HIV or use existing laws to prosecute people for transmitting the virus. Another 33 countries are considering similar legislation.  According to the report:

“In an increasing number of countries, transmitting or exposing another person to HIV can be an offence under criminal law. Charges are being brought under a variety of laws, either specific to HIV transmission or exposure, or under other laws such as murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, assault, grievous bodily harm (GBH) or poisoning. In some countries a distinction is made between intentional, ‘reckless’, or even negligent transmission of HIV. Exposure laws are primarily concerned with consent whereas transmission laws are concerned with both consent and proof of transmission.

“While some people believe that criminalization can promote public health outcomes and improve HIV prevention efforts, it may also deter people from accessing voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) services, discourage them from knowing their HIV-status and impede people from seeking appropriate care and support.”

Since 2005, seven countries in West Africa have passed HIV laws. In Benin, simply exposing others to HIV is a crime, even if transmission doesn’t occur. In Tanzania, intentional transmission of the virus can lead to life imprisonment. In the U.S., 32 states have laws criminalizing HIV transmission.

As reported: 

“A woman in Canadawas charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm having chosen not to access PMTCT services. The case is unusual. The charge the woman was convicted of is typically reserved for cases of child neglect. The woman was also charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm and aggravated assault. However, those charges were withdrawn.


“The woman has two children – the first born in 2003, does not have HIV. When she became pregnant the second time, in 2004, she changed her health care provider and did not tell her new doctors that she was HIV-positive. Her second child did not receive essential medication after birth, and tested HIV-positive in 2005. Although the woman did not breastfeed her first baby (under her doctor’s advice) she did breastfeed the second, which may have also facilitated the transmission of HIV. The woman was sentenced to a 6 month conditional sentence followed by 3 years of probation and also burdened with a criminal record, which can have serious implications in terms of future employment, travel, and access to social welfare.”

Read more about the report, after the jump.

The IPPF Report sees to address the following questions:

  • Is criminal law an effective public policy for promoting public health?

  • What laws are used to prosecute HIV transmission or exposure?

  • Does criminalization increase stigma related to HIV?

  • Where is the criminal law being used to prosecute HIV transmission or exposure?

  • Do criminal prosecutions relating to HIV strengthen or undermine public health interventions?

  • What are the legal implications of applying the criminal law to HIV?

  • What are the human rights implications of applying the criminal law to HIV?

  • What laws and strategies should replace criminalization?

Globally, about 33 million people are thought to have HIV and nearly 3 million people are newly infected every year.


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