Govt withdraws wilful HIV transmission from Bill Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi.

Zvamaida Murwira-Senior Reporter

A CLAUSE in the Criminal Laws Amendment (Protection of Children and Young Persons) Bill that lists wilful HIV/AIDS transmission to a partner as a criminal offence, is set to be withdrawn by the Government as the Second Republic seeks to align with international trends.

The Bill, presently before Parliament, listed HIV/AIDS as one of the sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), whose deliberate transmission to a partner is a criminal offence. Others include syphilis, gonorrhoea and herpes.

The Criminal Laws Amendment Bill also sets out to raise the age of sexual consent from 16 to 18.

The Bill sought to re-criminalise deliberate HIV/AIDS transmission despite the fact that the Marriages Act had decriminalised wilful HIV/AIDS transmission. Contributing to debate on the Bill in the National Assembly last week, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi, said prosecution under the Criminal Laws Amendment (Protection of Children and Young Persons) Bill should only apply when deliberate transmission of HIV/AIDS is done in aggravating circumstances such as rape and other sexual offences involving young persons.

 Earlier on, some legislators, including those in the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Portfolio Committee chaired by Bikita South MP, Dr Energy Mutodi, had expressed reservations on the reintroduction of the clause that had been taken away by the Marriages Act.

Said Minister Ziyambi: “The way it is couched in the Bill is not correct. The policy direction from the Executive was, where you sleep with a young person and you have been convicted, it becomes an aggravating factor if you have wilfully transmitted an STI to that particular young person.   

“The assumption that we are coming from is, young persons are not sexually active and it is not very difficult to prove once you have been convicted. Medical reports are there to prove that the young person contracted HIV and STIs and it should be an aggravating factor on sentencing.

“We are going to change this so that it does not appear like we have generally reintroduced the clause that we repealed the last time when we brought the Marriages Act. It is very difficult to prove and worldwide studies have shown that criminalising does not reduce transmission levels.”

Minister Ziyambi added that there were several discordant couples that can stay for years, “the other one not seroconverting”.  

“So, if we say we are criminalising, we are saying, per chance, if you manage to contract, you are a criminal, but that one who has not contracted and nothing has happened, we say ‘they are okay’; there is discrimination, scientifically it does not mean that if people sleep together, automatically they will have HIV,” he said.

Minister Ziyambi said it would be difficult to implement, if the law was to be allowed in the country’s statutes.

“So I want to take it to agree that it is a law that is very difficult to implement, hence the reason why the Executive, the last time when we had the Marriages Act, agreed with the submissions from those within the Ministry of Health and Child Care that we need to repeal it.  

“We now have an assumption that we have a case where somebody has been arrested for sleeping with a young person and medical reports are there that there has been an infection. Those reports will indicate whether that particular young person was sexually active or not, and there we are saying it becomes an aggravating factor if you have infected that particular young person with STIs and HIV. Therefore, that particular clause will be amended accordingly and hence we will be bringing those amendments,” he said.

Earlier on, presenting the Portfolio Committee’s report, Dr Mutodi said during their public hearings on the Bill, while some supported the clause, others expressed reservations.

He said some members of the public were against the clause, arguing that during the crafting of the Marriages Act in 2022, Government agreed to the lobbying of people with HIV and other support groups and civil society organisations to decriminalise wilful transmission of HIV.  

“It was further submitted that there is no method of establishing the period one may have been infected with HIV and who would have transmitted the virus between the two, when the statuses of both were unknown before sexual intercourse happened,” said Dr Mutodi.

Dzivarasekwa MP, Mr Edwin Mushoriwa, said it was difficult to prove wilful transmission of HIV.

Hwange Central MP, Mr Daniel Molokele, said the removal of the clause had been celebrated last time, and reinstating it would be retrogressive.

“This bad law was repealed because it is not possible socially and legally to prove who, in a particular relationship, was infected first with HIV. Over the years, many countries have repealed this bad law and Zimbabwe was one of the last countries to repeal this law,” he said.

“Women are the ones who have been prosecuted under this law and it has been difficult to prove that they committed a criminal offence because we all know that in this country, women are the ones who have health-seeking behaviour; they are the ones who are willing to do HIV tests. 

“Most men in this country are scared to do an HIV test. They are less scared of lions and other wild animals than having an HIV test. I can dare a man in this Parliament to have an HIV test in public and you see the reaction. Most of them will look for the nearest exit door.”

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