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Malawi sex workers want damages

26 February 2014, 07:02

Blantyre - Fourteen sex workers arrested by police in Malawi and forced to take HIV tests launched a fresh bid to seek damages in court on Tuesday.

The group was detained in 2009, hauled to a government hospital for HIV testing without their consent, and the results were disclosed in an open court.

"My clients are seeking damages as compensation for violation of their constitutional rights and trauma suffered as a result of actions of the police and a hospital," lawyer David Matupika Banda, told AFP after a brief court hearing.

Neither the sex workers nor the state lawyers were present in the High Court on Tuesday, where lawyers made a fresh attempt to sue the government.

It was not immediately clear how much they are demanding.

The prostitutes, who all tested positive, were charged with offering sexual services while carrying the HIV. They were set free after paying a fine equivalent to $7.

In 2011, they sued the government for violating their privacy and filed for a judicial review of their 2009 case.

But more than two years later, the case has not come up for hearing.

The sex workers "feel aggrieved by the decision of the police to subject them to mandatory medical tests that included HIV tests without their consent," said the lawyer.

Infringed their dignity

"They feel the decision was unlawful as it infringed upon [their... right to dignity, the right to privacy and it amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," Banda said.

Police have argued having the women tested was an integral part of their investigation.

Judge Dorothy Nyakaunda Kamanga ordered the defence lawyer to submit to the court the grounds for seeking damages and then she will set a hearing date.

Health officials say HIV prevalence among prostitutes in Malawi stands between 70 to 80%.

Only 5 000 people had access to anti-retrovirals in 2004 but a programme to make them free has raised the number of Malawians receiving treatment to half a million.

Official statistics show that about 10% of the country's 15 million people are infected with HIV.



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