Parliament has resolved to delete provisions in the HIV and Aids (Prevention and Management) Bill which proposed criminalising wilful HIV transmission and introduced mandatory testing for domestic workers and officers in uniform.
Debate on the contentious Bill resumed yesterday with most members of Parliament (MPs) speaking against the criminalisation of the disease on the basis that it would be discriminatory.
The contentious provisions are sections 42 to 44 which criminalise HIV infection, making a person who wilfully infects another liable to 21years imprisonment and 14 years imprisonment for negligently infecting another person.
Reads Section 43: “Any person who deliberately infects another person with HIV shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable to imprisonment for 14 years.”
In Section 44, the Bill proposed that a person who wilfully infects another would be liable to 21 years imprisonment.
Section 27 of the Bill, on the other hand, prohibited testing before recruitment into employment, but applicants would be allowed to assess fitness to serve in the Malawi Defence Force, Malawi Police Service, Malawi Prison Service and Immigration Department.
In their contributions, many MPs queried what would happen to those officers in uniform found HIV positive while in service when Section 28 makes it a criminal offence to fire an employee on the grounds that he or she is living or perceived to living with HIV and Aids.
Section 27 (b) also allowed the testing of a domestic worker before employment, a provision which also received criticism and has since been deleted from the Bill.
Before the Bill went into committee stage, several MPs spoke out against the provisions, arguing that they were clear human rights violations.
Dowa East MP Richard Chimwendo Banda (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) said instead of addressing issues of HIV, the Bill was introducing measures to discriminate people living with HIV and Aids.
He said: “No country has enacted a law on criminalisation of HIV because it is not easy to identify who has transmitted HIV in a relationship.”
In his contribution, Balaka North MP Lucius Banda (United Democratic Front-UDF) said the Bill should have also looked into ways of handling individuals who default medication.
Minister of Health Atupele Muluzi received applause in his wind-up speech when he announced that following discussions with various stakeholders, the government would support amendments to the Bill, especially Article 43.
He said: “I have been encouraged to support the amendments and I would request other members to do the same. There are more effective ways of dealing with the contentious issues such as those in Article 43 outside of the Bill.”
An ecstatic HIV and Aids and Nutrition Committee chairperson Deus Gumba Banda said the passing of the Bill was a dream come true for him and the committee.
He said: “This will be one of the finest HIV legislations that also pays attention to human rights of individuals.”
The HIV and Aids (Prevention and Management) Bill was developed by the Malawi Law Commission in 2008 to provide an institutional framework for effective regulation of the prevention and management of the HIV and Aids epidemic in Malawi.
The Bill will also formally establish National Aids Commission, outlining composition of the commission and procedures for appointing commissioners and the chief executive officer.