Don’t hang HIV carriers; educate them

Wednesday, 23 December 2009 08:18 By Ariel Rubin

Hardly a day goes by in Uganda without a case of defilement making the rounds in newspapers and media outlets. From the lurid tales spewed out daily by the Red Pepper tabloid to disheartening articles in the Daily Monitor and New Vision of allegations of police defiling rape victims and young women killing attempted rapists, these stories are garnering more and more attention. But why? No other country seems to be as focused on defilers as Uganda. Indeed, one of the major justifications for the controversial “Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009” is that the proposed law is a necessary measure to counteract the increasing amount of sexual abuse being perpetrated by homosexuals throughout the country.

According to a recent report by the African Network for Prevention against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) Uganda Chapter, 16 children were sexually abused daily in the first six months of this year in Uganda. A total of 9,480 child-abuse related cases were reported to various sources and of these, around 2,600 were defilement. According to Anselm Wandega, the national coordinator for research, information and advocacy at ANPPCAN, the number of child abuse cases in Uganda is “unacceptably high.” He blamed the high incidences of defilement on breakdown in the family system. 

This “breakdown of the family” and the fear it has engendered in Ugandans is one of the major pillars of Bahati and company’s arguments for further marginalising and criminalising Uganda’s gay community. This sentiment was echoed by Topher Mugumya, then-programme coordinator for research, information and advocacy at the ANPPCAN Uganda Chapter, who noted in 2007 that the widespread myth that having sex with a young child can “cleanse” one of HIV had led to a spike in child rape by HIV-positive men. This blanket statement, without any substantial qualification, is all that supporters of the anti-gay bill need to further stoke the fire. A quick glance at comments on Andrew Mwenda’s November 10th op-ed piece in this magazine shows just how many visceral, fear-driven reactions there are.

Instead of a nuanced and intelligent debate about the legality and ethicality of such a bill, the discourse revolves around a sinister cabal of homosexuals fiendishly preying upon innocent school children. Perversely, this renders the two terms synonymous, thus permitting proponents of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill to stifle opposition by calling any supporter a homosexual and thus invariably a defiler of small children. Even though the Penal Code Act already includes provisions which criminalise rape and defilement, Pastor Martin Ssempa can still vehemently argue that, “For too long we have had a problem that boys are raped and sodomised in school settings. Now when we deal with aggravated homosexuality, we are trying to provide equal protection before the law.”

 Unfortunately much of the debate over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 and the serious problem Uganda faces regarding child abuse seem to have become confused, allowing those like Ssempa to articulate that this deeply unfair bill is one that promotes equality. Indeed, ANPPCAN’s numbers pose a serious problem to Ugandan society but the spurious and offensive notion of a massive homosexual recruitment and rape drive is not the reason why. The difference between pedophilia and homosexuality must be elucidated so that the real reasons behind this bill can be understood and the appropriate responses to child abuse can be generated.

Ultimately, it would be prudent to investigate just how many cases of child rape by HIV-positive men are occurring as this is the kind of claim which can (and given the popular support for the bill, clearly has) stoke serious and often spurious biases against one small segment of the population. It is worth noting that according to one World Vision survey, 60% of girls reported sexual abuse while the number for boys was only 13%, indicating that heterosexual defilement is still a significantly bigger issue than same-sex abuse. As Dr Sylvia Tamale noted in a recent speech at Makerere University, “Over 50% of child sexual abuse reports involve children below 10 years of age, and the perpetrators are heterosexual men who are known to the victim.”  However, no one is tabling an “Anti-Heterosexuality Bill” in Parliament. 

There is no doubt that sexual abuse of minors poses a serious problem but it must not be conflated with the practice of consensual homosexual relations between two adults. The two issues have to be separated and dealt with accordingly. Instead of spending so much time and money advocating the execution of those with HIV/AIDS, the government would be wise to start educating.


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