The government of Tanzania is to overhaul its legal framework to take account of the challenges of HIV/AIDS.
"There is need for a comprehensive law on HIV/AIDS issues - a legal framework that ... takes into account the interests of those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. It should be understood that HIV/AIDS is no longer only a health challenge, but economic, social and political as well," said Sam Komba, legal officer with the Tanzania Commission for AIDS (TACAIDS).
Tanzania's legal framework has statutory, Islamic, Hindu and customary laws operating side by side, but has until now, failed to directly address issues related to HIV/AIDS, he added.
According to TACAIDS, more than two million Tanzanians have died from AIDS-related causes since the first case was reported over 20 years ago, and there are currently more than two million people living with the virus. The country also has more than one million children who have lost one or both parents to the disease.
The Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA) - commissioned by the government to review the country's laws - presented a report at a recent media workshop in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. It pointed to legislation that condoned practices that made people, particularly women, vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
"There are customary rules and practices that expose people to HIV/AIDS. These included polygamy, female genital mutilation, widow inheritance, widow cleansing and wife exchange," TAWLA said in its report, compiled by Magdalena Rwebangira and Maria Tungaraza.
Although progress has been made, serious flaws remained in the laws, said Rwebangira, TAWLA's chairperson. For instance, the Marriage Act of 1971 allows marriage for those aged 18 and above, but enables girls as young as 15 years to be married with the permission of parents.
"Clearly this law does not protect minors from HIV vulnerability, because the age of 15 falls under the category of minors in Tanzania," TAWLA said in its report.
Thirty-eight-year-old Juma Lisulu [not his real name], a Dar es Salaam resident living with HIV/AIDS, expressed concern about the lack of specific legal provisions for those affected by the virus.
"People are sometimes terminated from employment [for being HIV-positive]," he said. "There are cases of stigmatisation at work places or when getting social services. Children losing parents while they are still in school don't know where to get support or rights."
He added: "All this is because there are no specific legal provisions, instead we are surviving on charity, promises by politicians. Policies and declarations alone are not enough to make our lives better." Lisulu said he had been surviving on his relatives' support to get treatment - including antiretroviral drugs - since he was diagnosed five years ago.
TACAIDS' Komba noted that the commission and Tanzania's Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs were still canvassing the views of experts before coming up with a bill for comprehensive HIV/AIDS legislation later this year.
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