New laws to strengthen HIV/AIDS action
Two new laws, one currently going through the legislative pipeline and another enacted last year, are key to addressing the confluence of social problems that are contributing to Lesotho's humanitarian crisis. "Because HIV/AIDS is undermining our social institutions and economy, it is crucial that the Sexual Offences Act be utilised now that it is law," Limakatso Chisepo, director of social welfare at the Ministry of Health, told IRIN. "The act is important because it thoroughly defines sexual violations. It contains revised definitions of rape, including within the marital situation," said Sakoane Sakoane, counsel for the Lesotho Law Reform Commission .
Before the act, women could not refuse sex with their husbands. They may do so today; and, if the husband forces himself on his spouse, he is guilty of marital rape. "Even if sex is consensual, if you withhold the information that you are HIV-positive from your sex partner, it is a crime. This was a grey area before. It is also a criminal offence now to deliberately infect another person with HIV," Sakoane said.
But the Sexual Offences Act , passed into law last year, is still unknown to most people. With little by way of news media in the country – there are no daily newspapers and the government-run television station broadcasts for only two hours nightly – it is up to an information dissemination campaign by health organisations to spread the word about the law, and its benefits. "We also need to workshop and train chiefs about the law, because chiefs are the people's leaders at the local level," said Chisepo.
Although Lesotho is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child , its points need to be enshrined in national law. The Child Protection Act is currently with the cabinet, and is expected to advance to parliamentary debate and passage by early next year. "Adoption and custody issues, and child abduction, prostitution and labour, which are all prohibited, are covered by the act. The matter of street children, who are becoming numerous in urban areas, is being addressed by making these children the responsibility of the state, which must create institutions for them. The act is a radical departure from what we have today, which is very little," said Sakoane. "To government's credit, free primary education for all children is progressing. We started at grade one, and we are now up to grade five. The problem is that it is not compulsory," said Chisepo.
Other humanitarian workers feel that, while laudable, the government's current plan of financing primary education will stay incomplete until children no longer have the option of staying out of the classroom. Pressure is often placed on children - especially girls - to stay home by families affected by AIDS and poverty. "Children must be put in school. Families cannot keep them out to tend to sick relatives or to get jobs, like they can do now. When a policeman finds a child in the street, if there is a parent, the parent must account for why the child is not at school," Chisepo said.
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