Over 350 inmates are HIV positive

The issue of condoms and the taboo around prison sex has flared up again after a report advocating for the scrapping of the obsolete sodomy law was handed over to the justice ministry last month.

09 June 2021 | Justice

JANA-MARI SMITH

WINDHOEK

A total of 356 inmates in Namibia’s correctional facilities are HIV positive, but Namibia’s prison authorities continue to maintain the stance against distributing condoms in such facilities.

In an official response by the Namibia Correctional Services this week, prison spokesperson Commissioner Sam Shaalulange said there are currently 356 HIV positive inmates, but no data on HIV transmission in prisons.

He underlined that any change in the ban on condoms would be based on three factors: the decriminalisation of sodomy, a law that greenlights condom distribution, and evidence of HIV transmissions within Namibian prison walls.

The issue of condoms and the taboo around prison sex has flared up again after a report advocating for the scrapping of the obsolete sodomy law was handed over to the justice ministry last month.

The report highlighted that while the law has not been used since Independence, it promotes homophobia and has led to harmful policy decisions.

“Namibian Correctional Services have declined to provide inmates with condoms in order to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids,” the Law Reform and Development Commission warned.

Law reform

Shaalulange this week argued there is no “reliable evidence or data” to prove prisons are HIV transmission hotspots.

His response was in stark contrast to that of Commissioner-General Raphael Hamunyela, who earlier this month fumed against the possible repeal of the sodomy law.

His opposition to the law’s repeal, based on his Christian faith, highlighted the stance of prison authorities on the prevalence of sex in prisons.

“State officials should not confuse morality with legal duties. Namibia is a secular state, meaning that it is not acceptable to impose the view of any religion on anyone else,” legal expert Dianne Hubbard of the Legal Assistance Centre said.

The United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) has underlined that the “strong current of denial in many places about male-to-male sex, especially in prison, and a corresponding refusal to do anything which might be seen as condoning it”, poses a worrying barrier to tackling HIV and upholding the human rights of inmates.

The study stressed that “sexual contact does occur and cannot be stopped in prison settings.”

UNAIDS has warned that curbing HIV in African prisons is hampered by homophobia and sodomy laws.

Legal obligation

Moreover, the Correctional Service Act 9 of 2012 obligates prison services to “as far as is practicable and when so required, provide every inmate with access to preventive health measures”.

The law specifies that medical officers must provide inmates with “necessary precautionary or prophylactic health measures for the purpose of preventing the spread of or risk of any disease,” Hubbard said.

An LAC study in collaboration with the University of Wyoming on HIV and prisoner rights warned that “with or without condoms, inmates will continue to engage in sexual contact, through both consent and coercion.”

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