Law which penalises women who pass HIV to baby challenged in Kenya

Human rights groups have welcomed moves to change Kenya’s 2006 and Prevention Act which at present effectively criminalises pregnant women who pass HIV to their babies.

The says that a person knowing they are HIV positive must tell “any sexual contact” of their status in advance and could be jailed for seven years if they “knowingly and recklessly” placed another person at risk of being infected.

Kenya’s high court ruled this section of the law unconstitutional on 18 March as “it could be interpreted to apply to women who expose or transmit HIV to a child during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding”.

The law was introduced to curb the spread of HIV and Aids in Kenya, which has the fourth largest HIV-positive population in the world – 1.6 million people.

Rights groups argue that it discriminates against women, who are often the first members of a family to find out their HIV status as they are usually tested when pregnant.

“This law has inflicted fear, shame and punishment on countless Kenyans, especially pregnant women,” Evelyne Opondo, Africa director of the New-York based Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), said in a statement on 30 March.

Now is the time for the Kenya government to immediately amend this legislation and ensure people living with HIV can get the care they need without fear of discrimination or criminalisation.

CRR submitted an amicus brief in a case brought against the government by the AIDS Law Project, a charity providing legal services and counselling to people living with HIV.


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