- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

Sixteen members of the Moscow City Duma have condemned American-funded AIDS prevention programs conducted in Russia, saying the programs encourage Russian girls to “choose prostitution as a career.”

They have taken their complaints to Capitol Hill.

In an Oct. 8 letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, the group said prevention programs promoting safe sex alone undermined proposed revisions to the Russian criminal code that would make prostitution and trafficking of women major crimes.

Morality, they say, has been overlooked.

“Now we find ourselves under pressure from the United States government-funded ‘harm reduction’ projects that distribute condoms and sex education materials that aim to reduce HIV/AIDS among drug-addicted prostitutes while lobbying in favor of legalized prostitution,” the group wrote.

“They print materials for prostitutes that are distributed throughout Moscow schools, institutes and orphanages with the effect of encouraging young women to choose prostitution as a career. We find this morally unconscionable,” the letter continued.

The group — which includes cultural, financial, health and social policies commissioners — said, “It is up to all of us, no matter what our nationality, to see that young people everywhere grow up with good moral values, strong spiritual values and a sense of responsibility.”

A major task for those who hope to promote democracy in Russia, they wrote, “is to restore the moral values of our society.”

State Department figures show that Russia faces an estimated 8 million new HIV infections in the next decade. The agency calls it both an “emerging security threat” and a threat to the country’s “political, social and economic stability.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will spend $4.3 million on Russian anti-AIDS programs this year. The International Organization for Migration, meanwhile, estimates that some 50,000 Russian women are trafficked as prostitutes in Europe each year.

The situation has prompted a debate between the merits of morality versus practical prevention among populations at risk.

Disagreements over “abstinence versus safe sex cannot be permitted to distract the real issue of beating AIDS,” Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, told a Global Business Coalition forum at the Kennedy Center in June.

“The pandemic of AIDS must not be worsened by the plague of self-righteousness. People are sick now, dying now, and the truest morality is to save them now,” Mr. Kerry said.

The Moscow Duma members, however, take personal issue with the complicated circumstances.

“As Americans, you should apply the same standards to your foreign social policy in our country as you do your own,” they said in their letter to Mr. Frist. “You should look to the well-being of our children as if they were your children. If a policy is not acceptable in America, please do not export it to us.”

The group’s demands are under consideration.

“We are talking with the folks at USAID to evaluate the concerns expressed in the letter,” Frist spokesman Nick Smith said yesterday.

Mr. Frist and Mr. Kerry led a congressional drive earlier this year for a five-year, $15 billion global HIV/AIDS relief program. The legislation was passed in May.

It was, Mr. Frist said at the time, “the first major step in reversing this greatest of humanitarian challenges of the 21st century.”

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