Where is the criminal law being used to prosecute HIV transmission or exposure?

Current reviews indicate that 41 countries – 20 per cent of the countries in the world – have laws under which HIV transmission or exposure has been prosecuted using either general criminal or public health laws or HIV specific legislation. This includes 21 countries in Europe, 9 in Asia, 4 in Africa, 3 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2 in Oceania and 2 in North America. Further research is needed to uncover more details and consolidate precise numbers.

In terms of HIV specific laws, 63 countries have criminal provisions relating to HIV transmission or exposure in at least one jurisdiction – 27 in Africa, 13 in Asia, 11 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 9 in Europe and 2 in Oceania and 1 in North America. Of these, 17 countries have prosecuted individuals for HIV transmission or exposure under HIV specific laws.

(ref: 'Where HIV is a crime, not just a virus', Edwin J Bernard.

A number of others, mainly in Africa, are considering introducing HIV specific legislation.

In some countries like the USA and Australia, laws governing the criminalization of HIV differ by state.

Global overview

The USA and Canada lead the world in terms of the number of prosecutions and convictions for HIV transmission, with more than 350 convictions between them. Sweden has the highest number of cases in Europe with at least 38 known prosecutions: and Australia leads in the Pacific region with around 11 known convictions.

Enthusiasm for prosecutions seems to be stronger in parts of the world with lower rates of HIV than in countries where HIV is more common. In Sweden for example, there have been 38 prosecutions in a population of people living with HIV estimated to be around 6,200. This means that the prosecution rate is 6.12 per 1000 people living with HIV. 

(ref: GNP+ Global Scan)

Whilst an increasing number of African countries have introduced HIV specific legislation, only a very small number have undertaken prosecutions, such as in Togo, Zimbabwe and Burkina Faso. In countries with a medium or high HIV prevalence, not only does HIV criminalization risk criminalizing a significant proportion of the population every time they have sex, it is also likely to create strain on often already overcrowded prisons, stretch law enforcement and exacerbate existing inequalities in access to justice.

Find out more

Follow the links to case studies on what is happening in Canada, Egypt and many countries in Africa.

Read Fast Facts.

The Global Scan

The Global Network of People Living with HIV published research in 2010, which undertook a 'Global Scan' of countries around the world that had introduced criminalization measures or had undertaken prosecutions. For a full breakdown by country, go to the Global Scan site.

Vienna Conference 2010

Leading criminalization expert and commentator Edwin J Bernard presented a global overview of prosecutions at the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna in July 2010. Watch his presentation:

Fast facts about HIV criminalization
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