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 Wednesday 03 October 2007
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UGANDA: Death penalty for HIV-positive child sex offenders

Photo: Sven Torfinn/IRIN
About 10,000 cases of "defilement" or child rape are reported to the Ugandan police every year, according to a local child rights group.
KAMPALA, 19 April 2007 (PlusNews) - According to a new law passed by Uganda's parliament on Wednesday, an HIV-positive person who wilfully infects a minor through sexual intercourse will face the death penalty.

According to the new Penal Code Amendment Bill, an individual who is aware of their HIV-positive status and has sex with a child under the age of 14, with or without their consent, is guilty of "aggravated defilement" and, on conviction in the High Court, "liable to suffer death". The crime of defilement is defined as sex with a person under the age of 14.

Parliament unanimously passed the bill, first tabled in August 2006, but parliamentary spokeswoman Helen Kawesa said it needed presidential assent to become law, which usually takes about 30 days.

The proposed legislation seeks to amend the existing penal code, which has been criticised for being too lenient with HIV-positive people who rape children. Capital punishment has been the penalty for anyone found guilty of rape or defilement since 1996, but has never been implemented.

Some children's rights groups are hopeful that the proposed new law will deter HIV-positive sexual predators from victimising children.

According to Topher Mugumya, programme coordinator for research, information and advocacy at the Uganda chapter of the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN), the widespread myth that having sex with a young child can "cleanse" one of the HI virus has led to a spike in child rape by HIV-positive men.

"About 10,000 cases of defilement are reported to the police every year; this [proposed law] is a welcome development," Mugumya told IRIN/PlusNews.

But some human rights groups were opposed to the new legislation. "We are of the view that the death penalty for defilers is unacceptable, and amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," said Livinstone Sewanyana, executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), a human rights advocacy group. "It is also discriminatory against people infected with HIV."

Sewanyana told IRIN/PlusNews that his organisation had submitted a position paper to parliament proposing life sentences as an alternative punishment for people found guilty of the crime.

The bill also provides for offenders to pay victims reparations, determined by the court, for physical, sexual and psychological harm. Currently, defilement cases are often settled out of court, with the offender paying the victim's family a small fee or giving gifts of livestock and other commodities.

"This is also good progress; before, the parents of a defiled child would experience a double loss," Mugumya said. "Their child would be defiled, and they would spend time and money on a court case that might not even return a judgement in their favour."

He added that more fundamental changes to Uganda's legal system were needed before the victims of defilement could take full advantage of the proposed new law.

"The reported cases represent only those families who have access to the legal system," he said. "For instance, most courts are in towns, out of reach of the majority of defiled children, and the cases take so long that families sometimes lose interest before a verdict is delivered."


Related report: SWAZILAND: AIDS activists call for death penalty for HIV infection by rape

Theme(s): (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (IRIN) Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews


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