Belize Govt To Amend Legislation Dealing With HIV Transmission

(CMC) – The Belize government is to seek parliamentary approval to amend a section of the Criminal Code as it relates to HIV transmission from mother to child.

The Ministry of Human Development, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Wellness had proposed that there be a change to the legislation that currently allows an HIV-positive person knowingly engaging in risky sexual behaviour and infecting another carries a penalty and that included mother to child transmission.

Human Development Minister Dolores Balderamos-Garcia said 22 years ago, Parliament  passed a law making it a criminal offense to what “we would say knowingly transmit HIV.

“Now, back then, HIV was quite frightening because it was before the days of the anti-retroviral medications and before we learnt more about the human rights approach as we call it. So we did pass an amendment to the Criminal Code, making it an offense to know that you have HIV and to be engaging in risky sexual behaviour. So we went ahead and did that.”

But  Balderamos-Garcia said after many years later, health authorities here have come to realise not only that it was unnecessary, but also that it flies in the face of modern human rights norms, especially as it comes to the health issues.

“So the Ministry of Human Development, myself, and also Minister Kevin Bernard and the Ministry of Health, we decided – of course based on the recommendation of partners – that it is really time to remove [it]”.

“What it did was it attracts unnecessary attention and further stigmatises the issue of HIV. I mean there are other sexually transmitted infections which are in the mix, if we could say, but it wasn’t necessary to cause the stigma and discrimination further on the HIV.”

Balderamos-Garcia said other sections of the Criminal Code can suffice where somebody does something very reckless or deliberate, but in relation to what has happened now in the evolution of the fight against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, “it is not necessary to have that law now for the certification, as they call it and the validation that we are removing the mother to child transmission of HIV then in terms of the international norms, we have to remove that penal provision.

“So we are very pleased to do it and I can report that Cabinet has approved and it is a joint paper of the Ministry of Human Development and the Ministry of Health,” she told reporters.