HIV criminalisation is the application of the criminal law to people living with HIV based on their HIV-positive status. At least 75 countries still have laws that target people living with HIV specifically, or which punish people more harshly because of their HIV status. Such laws typically criminalise non-disclosure of HIV status to a sexual partner, potential or perceived exposure to HIV, or transmission of HIV.
Other countries don’t have HIV-specific laws, but still criminalise people living with HIV. For example, in England & Wales the ‘reckless’ transmission of HIV may be prosecuted under a law dating back from 1861 known as the Offences Against the Person Act.
A global review has found that in the last four years there have been HIV criminalisation cases in at least 49 countries, affecting close to 1000 people. Some countries are much harsher than others, having a disproportionate number of cases of HIV criminalisation than other countries, considering the number of people living with HIV in the country.
By far the worst HIV criminalisation hotspots are Belarus and the Czech Republic.
But also on the list are New Zealand, Canada, Sweden, Russia, Taiwan, Ukraine, Australia, Switzerland – and England & Wales.
The worst region for having laws that specifically target people living with HIV is sub-Saharan Africa, but it seems that not so many arrests or prosecutions actually occur there.
And the report identifies a number of places where unjust laws have been repealed, modernised or withdrawn. They include the Australian state of Victoria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Belarus (within the last few months), several states in the US, Malawi and Mexico.
For more information on the law in England & Wales, read NAM’s leaflet, ‘Transmission and the law’.