India’s Law Criminalizing Homosexuality Hinders HIV Prevention, Violates Human Rights of MSM, UNAIDS Official Says
India's law criminalizing homosexuality is undermining the fight against HIV/AIDS and violates the human rights of men who have sex with men, Denis Broun, UNAIDS India coordinator, said on Thursday, Reuters UK reports (Zaheer, Reuters UK, 11/30). The law, enacted in 1861 and known as Section 377, makes "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with man, woman or animal" punishable by up to 10 years in prison and, when strictly interpreted, makes it illegal to distribute condoms to gay men and men in prison. The law -- which seldom is used to prosecute gay adults in consensual relationships -- is most often used to arrest offenders in cases of sexual abuse of children. Some people warn that if the law is repealed, efforts to prosecute people who commit sexual abuses against children could be negatively affected (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/18). According to India's National AIDS Control Organization, there are about 2.5 million MSM in the country. However, UNAIDS says the number could be anywhere between five million and 15 million. "People are being harassed by section 377 and men having sex with men do not come forward and receive adequate prevention information," Broun said. He added that most Indian MSM are bisexual and that they risk transmitting the virus to their female partners. The law "puts gay activists under great pressure in their fight against AIDS," K.K. Abraham, general secretary of the Indian Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS, said, adding, "The government needs a reality check and (has) to do away with this law if it is serious about fighting HIV/AIDS" (Reuters UK, 11/30). The statute is being challenged under a 2001 lawsuit brought by the Naz Foundation India Trust. The Delhi High Court initially threw out the case, but the Supreme Court of India earlier this year instructed the high court to review the case again (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/18).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.