PRISON bosses have shot down calls by campaigners to distribute condoms to the country's 13,000 inmates to curb the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, including the deadly HIV.
It would require a change in the law to legalise homosexuality before prison authorities can distribute condoms to inmates, Zimbabwe Prisons Services Deputy Commissioner Agrey Machingauta told MPs on Thursday.
Appearing before the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Human Rights, Machingauta said: “On the issue of condoms, we cannot issue them out to inmates until this House (Parliament) passes legislation to legalise homosexuality in Zimbabwe.”
The Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe [GALZ] has been vocally advocating the distribution of condoms following a shock 2004 independent study into the State of Prisons in SADC which claimed that 51 percent of Zimbabwe’s inmates were HIV positive.
Tadesse Hassen Ali, the author of the Zimbabwe report of the SADC study, concluded his account by urging Zimbabwean authorities to make condoms available to prisoners.
Former Health Minister David Parirenyatwa, reacting to the study at the time, said: “The chances of an HIV negative person coming out of prison still negative are slim and that disturbs me greatly.”
Machingauta admitted homosexuality was taking place in prisons, adding that authorities were regularly “taking corrective measures” where there were witnesses.
“Let me say a big yes, we know that this activity (homosexuality) takes place in our prisons because we receive reports,” he told the MPs.
“I have been an officer in charge in a number of prisons and we used to receive reports whenever the parties are not in agreement and even when they are in agreement but there is a witness to the act that these two were committing sodomy.
“If they are in agreement they might try to deny it but as long there is a witness we take corrective measures.”
He said the Prisons Act had provisions criminalising homosexual sex acts, adding: “We actually have legal powers to try and punish. There are hardcore criminals who would indulge in anything, but once a report is made we take corrective action.”
He played down the prevalence of homosexual activity in prisons, saying most prisoners were aware of the dangers of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.