High Cost, Lack of Legal Services in Kenya Undermines Efforts To Fight HIV/AIDS Epidemic, Report Says
The high cost of legal services in Kenya leaves many people susceptible to human rights abuses -- including sexual violence, discrimination, property seizure and police abuse -- and undermines efforts to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS in the country, according to a report released on Monday by the Open Society Institute, Reuters reports (Reuters, 4/16). The report, titled "Ensuring Justice for Vulnerable Communities in Kenya," was prepared by OSI's East Africa Initiative and Law and Health Initiative. According to the report, legislation approved by the Kenyan government in January protects the rights of HIV-positive people, but it cannot be properly enforced without affordable legal services. The country does not have a state-sponsored legal support system to enforce the law, and people have to seek assistance from private lawyers and charitable groups, the Xinhua News Agency reports. As a result, victims of human rights abuses often face slow and corrupt courts, costly legal fees and local authorities who are unaware of or reluctant to apply the law, according to the Xinhua News Agency. In addition, the criminalization of commercial sex workers, men who have sex with men and injection drug users leads to police abuse and prevents such high-risk groups from seeking HIV-related services (Xinhua News Agency, 4/16). Domestic violence and unequal access to property also forces women to remain in marriages that increase their risk of HIV or leave them destitute in the event of divorce, the report said (Reuters, 4/16). The report also said that the sexual exploitation of children and teenagers is contributing to the disease's spread. The report calls on the Kenyan government and donors -- including the U.S., United Kingdom, World Bank and Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria -- to include funding for legal services in their HIV/AIDS grants. OSIEA and LAHI also have launched a new initiative that will incorporate legal services into HIV/AIDS programs with links to economic security and other aid for such groups (Xinhua News Agency, 4/16). "Just as it is possible to scale up HIV-related health services such as condoms, ... it is also necessary to scale up HIV-related legal services," Jonathan Cohen, the report's co-author, said (Reuters, 4/16).
The report is available online.