Fact Check

South Africa's 'HIV Genital Tattoo' Law

A fake news article reported that a new law in South Africa would require people with HIV to indelibly mark their genitals.

Published Apr 19, 2016

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A new law in South Africa requires people with HIV to mark their genitals.

On 18 April 2016, the entertainment web site WittyFeed published an article reporting that South Africa had passed a law requiring people with human immunodeficiency virus to get a tattoo on or near their genitals marking them as HIV-positive:

According to a recent law passed in South Africa, all HIV-positive people will be marked near their genitals by year end. They will be marked with an HIV tattoo that will reflect their identity. President Zuma signed a bill that seems to be the biggest step in the history of time. Jacob Zuma after signing the bill said, "The mark is to protect those who can't say no to sex. I mean if you can't read between the lines, you can read between the legs because there is where the status will be tattooed."

While HIV is undeniably a concern in South Africa, this story is not real.

WittyFeed is not explicitly a fake news publication, but the web site allows anyone to post their own content with minimal (or nonexistent) fact-checking. In this case, someone aggregated a fake news article that was originally published in January 2015 (and then republished in January 2016) on the South African web site SatireNews

Since then, this story about HIV genital tattoos has been reported by dozens of disreputable web sites. While South Africa's president Jacob Zuma has not commented on this story, Justice Edwin Cameron of the Constitutional Court of South Africa told the HIV Justice Network that the article was "utterly far-fetched and implausible."

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.

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