Zimbabwe’s health minister says that ‘out of control’ homosexuality is behind the high rate of HIV infections in the country’s prisons.
The Herald reported that the HIV prevalence rate among inmates is estimated to be at 28 percent.
The newspaper quoted Health and Childcare Minister David Parirenyatwa as saying: “The rise of HIV prevalence in prisons shows that it is either these prisoners are infected already before they get into prison and if not then it means homosexuality is rampant in prisons.”
Parirenyatwa added that despite “our own cultural expectations,” Zimbabweans could “not run away from the idea that it (homosexuality) is happening in our prisons.”
Chesterfield Samba, Director of local LGBT rights group GALZ, told NewZimbabwe.com that, “This isn’t a homosexual issue.”
He explained that men incarcerated in prison for long periods who engage in sexual activities are not necessarily gay and that there is a difference between sexual practises and sexual orientation.
“The mere existence of sexual relationships between inmates who do not identify as homosexual or bisexual is powerful testimony to men’s need for and ability to create intimacy when faced with factors such as confinement for longer periods,” said Samba.
“Prison culture encourages men to have sex with men, if not necessitating it, and you will often find agreed or victim type of relationships,” he added.
Samba nevertheless welcomed the minister’s willingness to address the issue of HIV in prisons
“It’s a practical health based human rights issue that needs attention to protect the health of both those who are incarcerated as well as people on the other side of the prison walls,” he said.
Samba also called on the government to start providing condoms to inmates.
“Not providing condoms to prisoners has serious implications that when prisoners are eventually released and come back into society to wives and girlfriends they may infect healthy partners and thus spread HIV,” he said.
Gay sex and public affection are illegal in Zimbabwe, with penalties of up to three years in jail. Same-sex marriage is also illegal, as entrenched in the country’s Constitution.