Legal reforms loom

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…as Lesotho bites the bullet on key populations

Moses Magadza

LESOTHO will soon begin a process of reviewing and reforming laws and policies as part of bold steps to ensure greater access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, HIV and AIDS services for all citizens including the key populations.

This was said by the Minister of Justice, Human Rights and Correctional Services, Mokhele Moletsane in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of a recent outreach programme to various health and correctional facilities in different parts of Lesotho.

Mr Moletsane and other ministers teamed up with legislators that undertook oversight visits to various health facilities around the country with the support from the SADC Parliamentary Forum, Sweden and Norway. They met key populations as they sought to better appreciate challenges facing these often hard to reach populations.

Key populations are defined as the “most-at-risk members of society” who include gay, bisexual and transgender people; sex workers; people who inject drugs; people living with HIV and adolescents. They face a slew of structural barriers as they try to access health services. Often socially marginalised and sometimes criminalised, they are peculiarly vulnerable to infection.

Public health experts warn that reaching targets in the global response to HIV and AIDS will not be possible unless concrete steps are taken to ensure that no one is left behind or falls through the cracks.

The outreach to various health and correctional facilities exposed gaps in the country’s SRHR, HIV and AIDS response which were negatively affecting some citizens, especially prisoners and the LGBTI community.

They legislators subsequently met with and implored the relevant ministries to take decisive steps to ensure that the rights of all citizens including key populations were upheld so that universal access to SRHR, HIV and AIDS services becomes a reality.

Mr Moletsane commended the lawmakers for undertaking the oversight missions and promised to act on their concerns.

“It was a very useful and important gathering where, as ministers, MPs, non-governmental organisations and government officials we interacted and discussed the important issues of HIV and AIDS in relation to the so-called key populations,” Mr Moletsane said.

He said the legislators’ reports enabled him to better appreciate “the peculiar needs of prisoners”.

“This was an eye-opener. We should always bear in mind that we should not only speak of females and males in our population. There is also the LGBTI community and as we provide health services we should remember that they are also part of the nation. Like everybody else, they have rights.”

He said that going forward, there was need to revise the laws to ensure they cater for the rights of the key populations.

“We should now embark on a rigorous transformation of our legal framework. We must come up with new laws to cater for key populations. Parliamentarians should embark on that rigorous reform to cater also for the needs of special groups within our institutions.

“I will invite all stakeholders so that together we will review the different pieces of legislation and repeal or amend where necessary so that we realise the rights of every citizen, especially prison inmates.”

Mr Moletsane commended the SADC Parliamentary Forum for building the capacity of MPs to advocate for universal access to SRHR, HIV and AIDS services. He also commended the legislators for boldly addressing the issues of key populations that been avoided for a long time.

“The importance of MPs cannot be over-emphasized. If MPs have a better appreciation of the needs of special populations, it will be very easy for us to work with them to respond to these challenges. People look up to us as leaders to wisely legislate to empower them.

“Parliament is taking its mandate seriously. They (the legislators) are determined to work and enlighten us. We know gay people exist but we have never taken time to understand their special situation and their special needs.

“We need to respond to these challenges through the national budget or legal reforms. We can no longer ignore or pretend that these (key populations) do not exist. We have to act.

“It is not going to be easy. We are a religious community but I am going to add my voice to numerous voices that are already advocating for change,” Mr Moletsane said.

Other ministers who attended the discussions are Matebatso Doti (Social Development) and Nkaku Kabi (Health). Deputy ministers, Mahlompho Mokaeane (Gender and Sports), Maphoka Motoboli (Education) and Manthabiseng Phohleli (Health) also attended.

Moses Magadza is the Communications and Advocacy Specialist at the SADC Parliamentary Forum.

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