News 24, Passing of HIV soon a crime, 27 January 2004

Jan-Jan Joubert

Cape Town - The transmission of HIV/Aids may become a crime soon if recommendations before parliament's portfolio committee on justice and constitutional development are accepted.

Johnny de Lange, African National Congress MP and chair of the committee, suggested on Monday the transmission of the disease become a separate crime because those with HIV/Aids "should accept responsibility for their actions".

The matter came up during a discussion on the amendments to the Sexual Offences Act.

Up to now, the suggestion was that someone who did not tell their sexual partner that he or she was HIV-positive be found guilty of rape.

This already had some people hot under the collar because they insisted the stigma connected with the disease would just be made worse.

The new recommendation - which was not opposed by members of the ANC, Democratic Alliance and African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) - is even more strict: that the transmission of the disease becomes a crime in its own right.

It becomes a 'death sentence'

De Lange referred to a British case in which a South African was charged because he infected several women with HIV.

Two years ago, a task team under Judge Edwin Cameron recommended on behalf of the judicial commission, that it would be "ill-advised and unacceptable" to make the transmission of HIV a new crime, but this finding obviously did not find favour with the portfolio committee.

De Lange said general consensus was that HIV/Aids was different from other sexually transmitted diseases because there was no cure for it and that it was therefore "a death sentence".

He dismissed the idea that using a condom could exonerate the HIV-positive person from prosecution.

"The question is whether the person would have been intimate if he or she knew their sex partner was HIV-positive," he argued.

De Lange also said it would not help to argue that someone who infected another person was not aware of their HIV status, as it was everyone's responsibility to find out.

"What I do not understand is why so many people do not expect those with HIV/Aids to take responsibility for their own actions.

"You can infect someone and, because there is no cure yet, it is a death sentence.

"The aim of this is not to blame people because they have HIV/Aids. It is to prevent them from exposing others to the same fate.

Legal age of sexual consent

"I cannot understand why some people want to place those with HIV/Aids on a pedestal. It is ridiculous," said De Lange.

The ACDP officially handed in a suggestion on Monday to fix the legal age of sexual consent for men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, at 18 years.

Other important changes the amended act recommends include a new definition of sexual penetration and indecent assault, as well as the prosecution of those who watch a rape or indecent act take place, as often happens in the case of gang members.




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