Minister of Health Jean Kalilani says the fact that Malawi is seeking funds to fight HIV and Aids in same sex relationships does not mean government will change homosexuality laws.
She said those engaging in the practice will be committing a crime and face the law.
Kalilani was speaking in an interview on Wednesday when asked whether government intends to change laws on homosexuality after a seemingly change of heart on them.
Malawi has asked for $388 888 (about K180 million) from The Global Fund for Tuberculosis, Malaria and HIV and Aids to support activities such as testing, counselling and treatment, condoms and prevention of risky behaviour for homosexuals in the country.
Said Kalilani: “There will be no change in laws on homosexuality. It is still a crime to anyone engaging in the practice.”
On how her ministry plans to reach out to homosexuals to access the outlined services, the minister referred the issue to the Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) which submitted the proposal to The Global Fund.
CCM secretary Victor Chayamba said on Wednesday he was in a meeting. He could not pick his phone when called again on Thursday.
The country’s Penal Code regards homosexuality illegal in sections 153, 156 and 137 and those found guilty face up to 14 years imprisonment with hard labour.
Kalilani’s response followed a suggestion by Centre for the Development of the People (Cedep) executive director Gift Trapence that government was playing double standards on homosexuality.
Said Trapence: “It is difficult to offer HIV and Aids services to homosexuals when there are sodomy laws on the other hand. The same government is criminalising same sex relationships and the same government wants money to help them. This does not make any sense.”
He said government needs to take a stand on the matter to enable people in same sex relationships to understand their fate if caught in the act.
The new law on Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill recognises marriage as between a man and a woman. President Peter Mutharika is yet to assent to the bill.
Trapence said this will make homosexuals go even further underground because instead of softening a stand on them, government is making their life harder.
Commenting on the issue, Charles Chilimampunga, a sociologist at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College in Zomba, said government is in a dilemma because it has to choose one of the two.
“On one hand, government does not want to be in conflict with religious leaders and the larger society that is against homosexuality. On the other hand, it has to toy the donor line, which would provide funding if it recognises homosexuality,” said Chilimampunga.
He said he carried out a research in 2013 which found that most traditional leaders were against homosexuality because of ignorance.
“They didn’t know how one becomes a homosexual; is it inborn or by choice? However, after explaining to them, many have changed their minds,” he said.
A seven-site MSM (Men having Sex with Men) HIV prevalence, social behavioural and population size estimation study released at the end of 2014 estimates show that MSM make up about 1.84 percent of the overall male population aged 20 to 39 years in Malawi or about 38 734 individuals.