By Jomo Paul
That situation has not changed radically with some countries moving to equip penal centers with condoms on the argument that prisoners are going to have sex with or without the condoms. Hence it is better that they do so in a safe manner.
While homosexuality is becoming increasingly visible in Guyanese society, the stigma, unacceptance and discrimination of it still remains and may have intensified the spread of HIV/Aids in the prison system.
In 2004, when the People’s Progressive Party/Civic administration had attempted to distribute condoms in the prison system, masses of religious citizens protested the plan, saying it was promoting homosexuality.
At one such protest, it was claimed that such an act would “plunge the prisoners into deeper sin.”
Fast forward eleven years later and the issue of condoms in prisons is once more on the horizon with a recent statement made by Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton.
Dr Norton told the 37th Meeting of the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board in Geneva, Switzerland that HIV cases in Guyana’s prisons are double that of the general populace.
“I am in full support of accelerating an increased access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services for people in prisons and other closed settings. Whist we are all aware of the risk for HIV in prisons and closed settings, our response in many ways have been lagging and therefore the time is opportune that we prioritize this population,” Dr Norton had said.
The Health Minister was however quick to speak on the issue of condoms in prisons promising formidable consultations on the subject.
“The opponents of prevention services and more particularly condoms in prisons must be educated and lobbied to ensure that there is full understanding of the issues and that decisions are based on evidence and science. Policies have to take on board a comprehensive, combination prevention approach to HIV.”
Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association Programme Director, Renuka Anandjit, in a recent interview with iNews lamented the need for condoms to be introduced into the prison system.
“Yes, do it! At the end of the day you have to look at it from a health perspective – it’s not about promoting homosexuality,” said Anandjit.
She explained that condoms would be the best option because regardless of whether the condoms are distributed, the prisoners will still have sexual relations amongst themselves.
“I can’t understand why there was a big uproar and the whole thing about promoting homosexuality,” she said recalling the issue in 2004.
She noted too that condoms should not only be given to the prisons that house male prisoners but rather an across the board approach should be taken, targeting both men and women that are incarcerated.
Mike McCormack, Head of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) opined that the situation is a lot more than just providing condoms in jails but also that of repealing discriminatory laws in Guyana’s constitution.
He told iNews that a more holistic manner in which the matter would be dealt with is the repealing of anti-buggery laws; something which has been elusive to Guyana, though it has been promised for decades.
McCormack further made his point detailing that by supplying condoms to the prisons it would be directly
promoting buggery in the case of male prisoners – which is an indirect contravention to the law.
“We have to look at making sexual orientation something that is protected in our constitution…until we sort that
one out we are not going to find a solution to the prison issue,” McCormack stated.
Contacted for a comment on the issue on Monday November 02, Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan told iNews that he has not given much thought on the issue and declined to further comment.
He said he would have to consult with Prisons officials before issuing any comment.
“I have not given any thought on that issue at all,” said Ramjattan.
Prisons in both the United Kingdom and the United States have begun distributing condoms in jail; these States have both overcome a major impediment which is the legalization of sodomy – by extension legalizing gay marriage.