On 4-5 March 2014, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) facilitated an Experts Group Meeting on the Implementation of National Reviews and Consultation on Legal Policy Barriers to Universal Access to HIV Services in Pattaya, Chonburi Province, Thailand. It was a follow up gathering from the Asia-Pacific High-Level Intergovernmental Meeting on Assessment of Progress against Commitments in the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS and the Millennium Development Goals held on 6-8 February 2012 in Bangkok, Thailand, where countries in Asia and the Pacific Region adopted a regional framework bearing the title “ESCAP Roadmap to 2015”. Fifty eight (58) member states agreed to conduct national reviews and multi-stakeholder consultations, including from key populations, on legal and policy barriers to catalyze progress towards the elimination of HIV-related stigma, discrimination and violence, in particular with regard to key populations at higher risk of HIV infection, by 2015. To date, only 18 countries have begun or completed the process.
During the Experts’ Meeting, I provided a commentary on Cambodia’s experiences in conducting national reviews and consultations on legal and policy barriers to universal access to HIV services. I deem it necessary to share as we have already completed this process.
In general, we have good laws in Cambodia, as they serve the public welfare. However, the implementation and practice of these laws negate the purpose of protection with regards to the vulnerable groups. A good example of that is the Human Trafficking Law. It protects the general population as it explicitly prohibits trafficking of persons. But by virtue of this law, policemen treat condom as a prime evidence for a human trafficking crime. By this reason, sex workers are getting arrested.
In addition, massage parlours, karaoke bars and guesthouses refuse to provide condom for fear of charges and arrests. This regulation and practice of Cambodian law enforcers bars the accessibility and utilization of sexual health services. As consequence, other services such as medical check up and Anti-Retroviral Drugs are not accessed by the MSM and TG.
Stigma and discrimination still happen among MSM and TGs. For example, in Siem Reap Province, MSM and TG are getting arrested by virtue of the “Clean City” Policy. In addition, the policemen take advantage of transgender people. Documentations present that extortion exist when law enforcers arrest transgender people.
The government provides a number of HIV services for key populations including PLHIVs, but there is a big gap in the uptake. Communities do not trust the services as they are being seen as subjects to report to the authorities.
We need more support in strengthening the community networks to advocate for the change in implementation. Funding should be directed to the community networks so that the community can have more voice in the involvement and implementation of the activities and building their own capacity at the same time.
The author, Mr. Han Bunvireak, the Project Coordinator of Cambodian People Living with HIV Network (CPN+) can be contacted via [email protected]