Philippines' HIV dilemma: too young for a test but old enough for sex
When Rey first got an HIV test, his mother went with him. He was 17 and her consent was required by law.
“My mum and I are pretty close. She has no issues about me being gay and is really supportive. But I know a lot of my friends wouldn’t dare bring their mums with them to get an HIV test,” says Rey, from Palawan.
His test came back positive and although it frightened him, Rey couldn’t say he was surprised.
Sexual initiation came early but condom use did not. He was 14 when he had his first sexual encounter; 16 when he tried to buy condoms at the local pharmacy. Condoms were placed behind the counter. Rey had to endure the awkwardness of telling the cashier he wanted to buy condoms and the knowing looks he got.
“It was bad enough that people in line heard me and knew what I wanted to buy. But the cashier kept looking at me and I could feel her sizing me up. It made me feel so small,” he says. Rey did not try buying condoms again.
“When I started having sex, I didn’t know anything about condoms. When I tried to buy them, I couldn’t. It was just too embarrassing. In a way, getting HIV was inevitable,” he says.
The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 100 million people in south-east Asia, is experiencing a surge in infections. Of the more than 40,000 people living with HIV, the majority were diagnosed in the past five years and many are young men (pdf).
Activists blame the increase on outdated laws and the grip of the Catholic church, which has sought to restrict safe sex programmes, sex education and efforts to distribute condoms to at-risk groups.
Homosexuality is legal, but the law prohibits people under 18 from getting an HIV test or taking free condoms from public health clinics without parental consent