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New law says death to child rapists in fight against AIDS

[Swaziland] Swazi Girls.
Young girls are more vulnerable to HIV infection (IRIN)

In response to growing alarm over Swaziland's HIV infection rate, a draft law proposing the death penalty for child rape and the intentional transmission of the virus was released this week.

"Any person who is convicted of rape under this bill is liable to the death penalty if the victim is below the age of 14 years, or to the death penalty if HIV and AIDS are an aggravating factor, or to the death penalty where such person has parental power over the child," reads the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Bill of 2005.

The death penalty proposed in the bill for fathers or guardians who rape and infect children in their charge with HIV is in response to widely reported incidents of AIDS-related incest.

Swaziland has the world's highest HIV infection rate estimated at around 40 percent of adults. Attempts by health workers to disabuse HIV-positive men of the myth that sleeping with a virgin cures them of the virus have not been entirely successful.

Consensual sex may also become a capital crime if an HIV-positive person does not use condoms.

"A person who is HIV positive or has a life threatening sexually transmitted disease who engages in unprotected sex with another person and intentionally transmits such disease to such a person is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to the death penalty," the draft legislation states.

The bill, drawn up by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, emerged after consultations with health and social welfare groups, and the general public.

"We know from a human rights point of view that the death penalty could be challenged. But people's views were unwavering on this subject. The logic behind the bill is clear; it is known that sexual abuse survivors infected with HIV are condemned to death," said Nonhlanhla Dlamini, director of the NGO Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse.

The sexual offences bill echoes the new national constitution, due to come into force next year, which permits cultural practices like "wife inheritance" only if a woman consents.

If a woman is unwilling, those who force her into customs like virginity testing or traditional marriage are liable to a minimum prison term of 10 years.

"Wife inheritance is one customary practice that can only be voluntary. In Swazi culture, a widow goes to live with her dead husband's brother, and becomes one of his wives. This has become a violation of a woman's rights today if she is unwilling, and it has become a public health issue. The practice has been cited as a contributor to the spread of HIV," said AIDS counsellor Alice Fakudze.

Already outlawed, the bill further criminalises prostitution and abortion. The new draft legislation also proposes the death penalty for anybody convicted of trafficking girls aged under 16.

Abortion can earn a woman a minimum prison term of seven years, and a fine of E20,000 (US $3,000), which is about a year's net salary for a low-grade government worker.

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Prince David Dlamini, is due to table the bill before the government-controlled parliament, although the date is yet to be specified.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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