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African Study on HIV Says Criminalizing Sex Work Contributes to the Problem

December 19th, 2017 brought forth a study that was the first of its kind; on that day, the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) produced a study entitled “HIV, The Law and Human Rights In The African Human Rights System: Key Challenges and Opportunities For Rights-Based Responses.”

This study jumpstarted important discourse on the way that communities on the continent of Africa that are at higher risk for contracting HIV are negatively affected by laws put in place which increase, rather than lower, community members’ risk of contracting the disease.

The study highlights which communities are at the highest risk of contracting HIV in varying African countries and acknowledges the high risk that LGBTQ communities and prisoners on the continent face. It also showcases positive practices that can be adopted on an institutional level in order to combat the spread of the disease.

This is expressed in the push to decriminalize sex work in many African countries and regulate the practice so that sex workers have proper access to protective measures like condoms, which possession of in certain countries could be means for arrest.

The study reveals that those most vulnerable to contracting HIV on the continent are “women, youth, sex workers, prisoners and people who inject drugs.” Knowing that this particular demographic of people are at higher risk brings up the topic of the criminalization and prohibition of safe sex work which subjects varying communities to the potential of contracting the disease.

One equally important point made in the study “indicated that the fact that a majority of African countries criminalize commercial sex work through law enforcement activities such as arbitrary detention and arrest based on condom possession ‘deters sex workers from accessing condoms and place them at risk of HIV infection,’” according to a Xinhuanet article on the topic.

Due to the criminalization of safe sex practices among sex workers, the human rights aspect of a study like this is assumed to be that everyone should have equal access and opportunity to engage in safe sex and protect themselves from STIs and STDs, despite what society thinks of the moral correctness of an individual’s lifestyle.

The ACHPR’s comprehensive and inclusive study has successfully opened up conversations with officials across the continent and could possibly lead to action, urging for steps to be taken in the case of protecting diverse communities from the threat of HIV. 

For more information and updates on the ACHPR, you can visit its website or follow ACHPR on Twitter.

Featured Image by Wheeler Cowperthwaite on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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