Sexual Offences bill raises many concerns
Tuesday 13 September 2005
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SOUTH AFRICA: Sexual Offences bill raises many concerns

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

JOHANNESBURG, 13 August (PLUSNEWS) - As a week-long campaign to create awareness around the Sexual Offences bill draws to an end, South African NGOs involved in gender violence issues are calling for the proposed legislation to provide free anti-AIDS drugs for rape survivors.

The bill initially included a treatment clause covering post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for women who had been sexually assaulted at state cost, but it was removed, then reinstated in modified form, and has now been sent back to the ministry of health for redrafting.

The NGOs are uncertain about the future of the clause. "It's difficult to establish the department of health's progress in reworking the clause - we are hoping that all will be revealed within the foreseeable future," Helene Combrinck, senior researcher at the Community Law Centre at the University of the Western Cape, said at a briefing this week.

South Africa has one of the highest incidences of sexual abuse in the world. According to police statistics, 52,107 rapes and attempted rapes were reported in 2002, while a 1999 health department study found that 7 percent of women aged between 15 and 49 had been raped or coerced into having sex against their will.

Although cabinet announced in 2002 that rape survivors were to receive antiretroviral drugs to reduce the risk of HIV transmission, Combrinck noted that research conducted by Human Rights Watch had shown that the provision of PEP was "not happening as it should be".

The 25 NGOs involved in the campaign said in a statement, "[PEP] is simply not being consistently offered to survivors of sexual offences, because of the general reluctance that has been shown by the government to rolling out antiretroviral drugs."

"This is why the treatment clause should be in legislation ... there will be greater accountability," Combrinck said. "And we cannot get complacent over the cabinet's decision - if there were to be a shift in resources priority, it would be more difficult for PEP to get resources."

There was also a symbolic value to the clause. "If it is included, rape survivors can have a sense that they have been given thought, and they are a priority."

Although the bill has been delayed for almost five years, Combrinck warned against rushing its implementation. "If I had it my way, this would have been passed 10 years ago. But we have to try and find a balance and be realistic ... we all want to get the best end-product at the end of the day."

Another contentious issue in the bill has been the attempts to make the wilful transmission of the HI virus a crime. According to Gender Links executive director Colleen Lowe Morna, this was a "complex matter".

"The real issue is the practical side. This will be extremely difficult to implement and it can work against women, particularly those in abusive relationships," she said.


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IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 247, 19 August 2005,  19/Aug/05
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