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Sex in Jails: Fact Not Fiction
by Amon Ngavetene, project coordinator, AIDS Law Unit (ALU)
Release date: November 2007

The new Namibian policy on HIV and AIDS states that all convicted prisoners, awaiting trial inmates and prison staff are entitled to have access to the same HIV-related prevention information, education, voluntary counselling and testing (VCT), means of prevention, treatment, care and support as is available to the general population.

This is a comprehensive approach to HIV and AIDS in prison. Education and VCT are fairly easily offered in the prison. But there is a challenge with it comes to prevention. A prevention apprach commonly used in Namibia is the "ABC" approach, which stands for Abstinence, Be Faithful and Condomise. The bone of contention has alwasy been the issue of condom distribution in Namibian prisons.

Various reports by Parliamentary Standing Committees acknowledge that prisoners engage in sexual activity in jail and the spread of HIV infection in these institutions is evident. The true state of affairs is that infection and re-infection is taking place in prisons.

However, opponents of condom distribution in jails choose to bury their heads in the snad and deny the fact of male on mail sex in our prisons. They claim that distributing condoms in prisons will make the state an accomplice to the commission of the crime of sodomy.

Those infected and re-infected by HIV are more likely to have strains of the virus that are resistant to treatment. An important thing for us all, and for policy-makers in particular, to remember is that, once their time has been served, inmates re-enter the broader Namibian community.

The spread of drug-resistant strains of HIV will be a setback to the gains of public health goals of fighting HIV and AIDS.

The time has come to scrap the common law of sodomy to allow for the distribution of condoms in prison. It is increasingly clear that the common law crim of sodomy does not have any place in our modern society and runs counter to our Constitution.

It has been inherited from our past where the religious views of certain sectors of society influenced the content of law, determining right and wrong, morality and ethics. We cannot afford to risk our future and lose lives to adhere to the moral, ethical and religious convictions of only a certain section of society.

Even within this particular worldview, it is important to think of the impact that this law has on the lives of the weak in our prisons who are raped with no means of protection.

The time has come to think beyond moral, religious and ethical convictions and to ensure that all people within Namibia have equal rights and responsibilities in terms of preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Decriminalising sodomy offers a sensible step towards effecting a comprehensive approach to prevention of the spread of HIV within our prisons and our country.

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