After scrapping a regressive 19th century law that criminalised homosexuality, India has joined the ranks of the few former colonies to abandon a lasting legacy of British rule.
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was introduced by the British in 1861, inspired by the 1553 Buggery Act that outlawed homosexuality in England. It was reportedly imposed to protect soldiers and colonial administrators from “corruption” out of a fear that these men sent far from home (and their wives) would turn to homosexuality, according to British Colonialism and the Criminalization of Homosexuality, a book by
In the book, Han and Joseph explain that the IPC, along with the Queensland criminal code of 1899, was used as a model for the legal systems in other British colonies around the world. “Thus, through its colonial administration, the British managed to impose and institutionalise a set of laws in its colonies that criminalized homosexual conduct,” they write.
Of course, section 377 remained in India long after the British left and decriminalised homosexuality themselves. Following decades of activism and protests, the Indian supreme court on Sept. 06 finally declared the law unconstitutional, following in the footsteps of courts in two other former colonies, Trinidad & Tobago and Belize.
As the largest country in the Commonwealth, India’s landmark decision sends a message to other former British colonies that have stuck with draconian laws against homosexuality. Of the 70 countries around the world that criminalise homosexuality, at least 42 were once under some kind of British control. And their modern-day laws are often direct descendants of the 19th century British laws.
Here are some of the former British colonies and protectorates where homosexuality is still a criminal offence (sourced from the 2017 State-Sponsored Homophobia report by The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association):
Afghanistan: Illegal, punishable by death.
Pakistan: Imprisonment between two and 10 years, if not for life, and a fine.
Bangladesh: Life sentence and a fine.
Sri Lanka: Imprisonment of up to 10 years.
Singapore: Imprisonment of up to two years.
Malaysia: Whipping, imprisonment for up to 20 years.
Brunei: Imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine.
Myanmar: Imprisonment for up to 10 years and a fine.
Kuwait: Imprisonment of up to seven years.
Oman: Imprisonment of six months to three years.
Kenya: Imprisonment for 14 years.
Nigeria: Men who engage in an “act of gross indecency” can be imprisoned for up to three years. In states which have adopted sharia law, homosexuality among men is punishable by death; whipping and/or imprisonment for women.
Gambia: Imprisonment for up to 14 years.
Uganda: Imprisonment for life.
Zambia: Imprisonment for 15 years to life.
Botswana: Imprisonment for seven years.
Ghana: Imprisonment for three years.
Cameroon: Imprisonment for six months to five years and a fine.
Malawi: Imprisonment for 14 years.
Mauritius: Sodomy punished with imprisonment for five years.
Sierra Leone: “Buggery” can result in penal servitude for life or 10 years.
Somalia: Imprisonment for three months to three years.
Sudan: Sodomy punished by flogging (100 lashes) and imprisonment for five years.
South Sudan: Imprisonment of 10 years and a fine. Sodomy is punishable with 40 lashes and a sentence of one year.
Swaziland: Homosexuality is a common-law offence.
Tanzania: Imprisonment for 30 years or life.
Zimbabwe: Sodomy is punishable with a fine and/or imprisonment for up to a year.
Jamaica: “Buggery” punishable with imprisonment for 10 years with hard labour.
Antigua and Barbuda: “Buggery” punishable with imprisonment for 15 years.
St Kitts and Nevis: “Buggery” punishable with imprisonment of 10 years with or without hard labour.
St Lucia: “Buggery” is punishable with imprisonment of 10 years.
Grenada: Sodomy between men is punishable with imprisonment for up to 10 years.
Dominica: “Buggery” is punishable with imprisonment for 10 years. Section 16 of the Sexual Offences Act also states that “if the court thinks it fit, the court may order that the convicted person be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.”
Barbados: “Buggery” is punishable with imprisonment for life.
St Vincent and the Grenadines: “Buggery” is punishable with imprisonment for 10 years.
Guyana: “Buggery” is punishable with imprisonment for life.
Kiribati: “Buggery” is punishable with imprisonment for 14 years. “Indecent practices between males” is punishable with imprisonment for five years.
Solomon Islands: “Buggery” is punishable with imprisonment for 14 years. “Indecent practices between persons of the same sex” is punishable with imprisonment for five years.
Cook Islands: “Indecency between males” is punishable with imprisonment for up to five years. Sodomy is also criminalised.
Papau New Guinea: Imprisonment for up to 14 years. “Indecent practices between men” is punishable with imprisonment for up to three years.
Tonga: Sodomy is punishable with imprisonment for up to 10 years. Section 142 of the Criminal Offences Act also says that a person convicted for sodomy or an “indecent assault upon a male” can be whipped.
Tuvalu: “Buggery” is punishable with imprisonment for 14 years. “Indecent practices between males” is punishable with imprisonment for five years.
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