Fri, Jan 13, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Councilor wants to fine Colombians without condoms

AP , BOGOTA

A western Colombian city councilman wants to require everyone in town aged 14 or older to carry a condom to prevent pregnancy and disease in a move that is outraging local priests.

William Pena, a councilman in Tulua, said on Wednesday he will present a formal proposal to force all men and women, even those just visiting the town, to always carry at least one condom. Those caught empty-pocketed could pay a fine of US$180 or take a safe sex course, he said.

"Sexual relations are going on constantly," Pena said. "If you carry a condom, chances are you'll use it during the day. It's not going to be there forever."

Tulua has one of the highest rates of AIDS in Colombia, he said. The proposal will be debated by other town leaders and could go into effect by March, he said.

Roman Catholic priests in the Cauca Valley town, 240km southwest of Bogota, were fuming over the plan.

The Reverend Jesus Velasquez said it would only encourage sexual relations and ridiculed it as absurd. The local newspaper El Tiempo on Wednesday quoted him as saying, "I would have to have a condom even though I'm clergy."

Another town priest, Roberto Sarmiento, said that improved sex education would be a better solution.

"Nobody can force someone to carry a condom in their pocket," he said. "They should instead carry the responsibility of what sexual relations mean."

Ramiro Cano, a 19-year-old laborer in Tulua, said on Wednesday that the proposal was the talk of the town and that most young people he talked to supported it.

"I try to always carry a condom on me, especially if I go to a discotheque, in case I can pick up someone," Cano said.

The proposal is perhaps the most radical in a series of pro-condom efforts across a country where 190,000 people are infected with HIV, a figure only surpassed in Latin America by Brazil, according to the WHO.

The capital city of Bogota handed out more than 2 million free condoms last year.

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