Social stigma towards HIV/AIDS: Goa schools deny admission to 13 infected students

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Red Ribbon Express is an AIDS/HIV awareness campaign train by the Indian Railways
The ongoing controversy over admission of 13 HIV positive orphans in Goa has put spotlight on social stigma and negativity in thoughts of the people towards HIV-positive patients.

13 HIV positive orphans have been denied admission by at least three schools in Rivona village, in Goa's south eastern sub district of Sanguem because of strong objections from parents. The 13 orphans had been enrolled in an open school before the nuns who run their community care centre decided to admit them to regular school this year.

Besides these 13 children, the parents and parents-teacher association is demanding removal of 23 non-HIV students admitted to Fatima High School who stay in the same centre. The parents are claiming that the presence of HIV-positive children could put their children at risk.

The discrimination being meted out to the 36 children from the centre does not only show the cruel, illogical bias of humans who are raising the next generation, but also adds to the psychological scarring of children already scarred for life.

SC notices to Centre, State Governments on discrimination against HIV-positive students

The controversy comes a few months after the Supreme Court issued notices to Central and State Governments on a PIL about the discrimination HIV-positive students face in schools across the country.

The petitioner, NGO Naz Foundation had sought urgent guidelines under the Right to Education Act to protect HIV positive students. The petition also said breach of confidentiality regarding the HIV-positive status of such children was the beginning of their mistreatment.

Highlighting the severity of the situation, the PIL also quoted a March 2011 statement of then Health Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad made in Parliament that between 2008 and 2010, 61 HIV-positive children were expelled from school.

A number of instances of discrimination:

In 2010, eight HIV positive students were allegedly removed from DPS, Maruti Kunj (Gurgaon). The children later claimed that they were made to sweep the classrooms by the teachers.

In 2009, eight HIV positive children were asked to leave by the Zilla Parishad School, Hosegaon (Latur) after parents of other students raised objections.

In 2011, a panchayat union middle school in Perunkaranai in Tamil Nadu reportedly expelled 29 HIV positive students.

In 2012, a school in Madurai bars entry of a 12-year-old HIV positive student. According to the boy , the teacher started treating him badly he came to know that he was HIV-positive.

Stigma prevails everywhere:

HIV positive people have been subjected to discrimination from various sections of society. In fact, it's quite common for employees to lose their job and families to be ostracised in their HIV positive status is revealed.

Between 2008 and 2010, 61 HIV-positive children were expelled from schools.

What are the laws?

A Bill namely HIV/AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill 2014, addressing the issue was tabled in 2006 and was recently introduced in the Rajya Sabha. Under the proposed law, HIV/AIDS-affected people will be provided protection against discrimination in employment, healthcare, education, travel and insurance, in both public as well as private sectors.

The Bill also proposes imprisonment and fine for those spreading hatred and discrimination against HIV patients. According to official information, a fine up to Rs 10,000 and two years' imprisonment has been proposed as punishment for spreading hatred against people with HIV/AIDS.

The HIV-positive people will continue to be discriminated and will not be able to lead a normal life until the society accepts them whole-heartedly. The programmes and campaigns run by the Government will be of no use if the people continue to discriminate them. Rather than making laws or run campaigns, myths surrounding the disease should be addressed.

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