Outdated law ‘major obstacle’ in tackling AIDS: UNAIDS officialNovember 17th, 2008 - 11:27 am ICT by IANS
New Delhi, Nov 17 (IANS) An antiquated Indian law that criminalises sex between men is a “major obstacle” in efforts to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country, according to UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot.”Section 377 (of the Indian Penal Code - IPC) is part of the colonial heritage and should have been abolished a long time back. It is a violation of human rights and a major obstacle in fighting HIV/AIDS,” Piot told IANS during his recent visit to India.
Section 377 treats sexual relations among people of the same gender as “unnatural” and a criminal act. The provision has been mired in controversy ever since a public suit was filed in 2001 in the Delhi High Court challenging its legality.
According to estimates, in India there are 2.46 million male homosexuals. About 86 percent of HIV infection is through the sexual route, which includes men having sex with men (MSM) and transgenders.
India is home to 2.5 million HIV/AIDS patients including 70,000 children below the age of 14.
Piot, also an under secretary general of the UN, said the penal provision against homosexuality is not “unique” to India and is also present in former British colonies and Islamic countries.
“Just map the world and you will see that wherever the British have ruled, this penal provision exists. It also exists in the Islamic countries and also in Singapore. I am from Belgium. It was there too. The law was changed and now same sex marriages are allowed,” he said.
“For India now, the focus area is the MSM population. This is a problem which is common to other Asian countries also. It has become quite an epidemic among this group - just as it was in the western countries in the 1980s,” he said.
Citing the example of China, Piot said the incidence of infection among this group in rural areas of the country is going up.
“It is a key issue and as it confronts the social fabric and has societal taboos, people are afraid to come out. They are afraid to talk about their sexual preferences, which is leading to the rise in the infection,” he added.
He is all praise for India’s Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, who has championed the cause of gay rights and fought for abolition of Section 377.
But after facing criticism from his senior cabinet colleagues, Ramadoss has now changed his stance and has said that Section 377, instead of being “scrapped”, should be “modified.”
The Indian government has been divided about scrapping the penal provision ever since the matter came up in the Delhi High Court.
While the home ministry has been opposing this on the ground that homosexuality is a “criminal offence” and removing the penal clause would “disturb the law and order situation and create unnecessary problems in society”, the health ministry wants to legalise homosexuality to reach out to this “hidden population” who are vulnerable to HIV infection.
“Why is discrimination shown towards a person because of his sexual orientation. It is a human rights violation. This could pose a problem for public health preparedness. It is important that this provision is abolished as the law is acting as an obstacle to our efforts,” Piot added.