Zero Discrimination Day is commemorated annually on March 1. The day celebrates the right of everyone to lead a complete and productive life while living the life in dignity. Zero Discrimination Day focuses on creating awareness on and promoting inclusion, peace, compassion and most importantly, a movement for change. The international day encourages creation of a global movement of solidarity to eliminate every form of discrimination. The theme for this year’s Zero Discrimination Day is “Save lives: Decriminalize”.
UNAIDS, through 2023’s theme, aims at emphasizing how the decriminalization of major populations and people living with HIV, rescues lives and helps in promotion of the end of the AIDS pandemic. Criminal laws that focus on major populations and people living with HIV is a violation of their human rights and an exacerbation of the stigma people encounter. These laws endanger people through creation of barriers to the required support and services for protection of their health.
Many countries around the world still practice criminalization.
In 2021, ambitious law reform targets were set by the world to enable removal of criminal laws that undermine the HIV response and leave key populations behind. Having considered decriminalization as a significant element in the HIV response, countries around the world agreed on a commitment that by 2025 below 10 percent of countries would possess punitive legal and policy environments that negate the HIV response. Although there have been a number of encouraging reforms, the world is not yet close to achieving the target.
Today, there are 134 countries openly criminalizing and prosecuting HIV exposure, transmission or non-disclosure; 20 countries practice criminalization and prosecution of transgender persons; 153 countries ensure criminalization of at least one form of sex work; and 67 countries now practice criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity. UNAIDS added that 48 countries still have restrictions placed on entry into their country for people living with HIV; 53 countries enforce mandatory HIV testing; and 106 countries request parental consent to carry out HIV testing for adolescents.
Nigeria considers it a criminal offence to discriminate against PLWHIV.
Also importantly, UNAIDS asserts that criminalization brings about discrimination and structural inequalities, robbing people of the assurance of living healthy and fulfilling lives. Criminalization hinders the elimination of AIDS, as a result, it must be stopped to save lives. Criminalization is not done to reduce the risk of contacting HIV for marginalized groups because criminalization increases the risk of contacting HIV. Criminalization is said to increase vulnerability. Therefore, communities advocate for change even as they help to ensure a solid movement for decriminalization.
Nigeria enacted the HIV and AIDS (Anti-Discrimination) Act, 2014 (“the HIV and AIDS Act”) which makes provisions that prevent and protect the Human Rights of people living with the HIV virus from all forms of discrimination and stigmatization particularly in the workplace, institutions, communities and other fields of human endeavors. It is considered a criminal offence to discriminate against any person living with HIV or AIDS . It is mandatory that the confidentiality of the health and medical records of any person living with HIV or AIDS is always protected.
Day promotes equality before the law in UN countries.
Additionally, Zero Discrimination Day is usually celebrated by the United Nations (UN) and other international organizations. Commemoration of the day helps promotion of equality before the law and in practice in all member countries of the United Nations. The first celebration of the day was launched by UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé, on February 27, 2014 alongside a major event in Beijing and was held on March 1, 2014. The day is recognized by organizations that are concerned about eliminating discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.