Indian Government Failing To Protect Children Affected by HIV/AIDS From Discrimination, Human Rights Watch Report Says
The Indian government is failing to protect HIV-positive children from discrimination, including expulsion from or segregation in schools, hospitals and orphanages, according to a Human Rights Watch report released on Wednesday, BBC News reports (BBC News, 7/29). The report, titled, "Future Forsaken: Abuses Against Children Affected by HIV/AIDS in India," says that the Indian government's failure to protect HIV-positive children and AIDS orphans from abuse or exploitation is undermining the country's strategy to fight the epidemic, according to Pakistan's Daily Times (Hasan, Daily Times, 7/28). The Indian National AIDS Control Organization says that there are approximately 60,000 HIV-positive children in the country, but independent groups say that the number could be closer to 100,000, according to the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution (George, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 7/28). In addition, there are about one million children in India who have lost one or both parents to AIDS-related causes, according to BBC News (BBC News, 7/29). Zama Coursen-Neff, the report's author, says that when a parent becomes sick due to AIDS-related illnesses, children often leave school to care for them or work to replace lost income , according to the AP/Journal-Constitution. "Children affected by HIV/AIDS are being discriminated against in education and health services, denied care by orphanages and pushed onto the streets and into the worst forms of child labor," Coursen-Neff said. In addition, physicians often refuse to treat or even touch HIV-positive children, and some children are expelled from school if their parents are HIV-positive, according to Coursen-Neff (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 7/29). Sexual violence and abuse and the "long-standing subordination" of women in Indian society make girls particularly vulnerable to HIV, the report says, according to BBC News (BBC News, 7/29). The report says that children affected by HIV/AIDS have been "nearly invisible" in the government's response to the epidemic, according to Reuters (Denyer, Reuters, 7/28).
The report recommends that the Indian government enact and enforce legislation prohibiting discrimination against HIV-positive people; provide medical care -- including antiretroviral drugs -- to all children living with HIV/AIDS; reduce school fees to allow children, especially girls, to remain in school; and provide care and protection to children whose parents are unable to care for them due to AIDS-related illnesses, according to the Daily Times (Daily Times, 7/28). Kousalya Perisamy of the Positive Women's Network said, "The discrimination that girls with HIV/AIDS face in the home, community and at the workplace has remained largely invisible to government policy makers," adding, "There are no programs that focus on their problems." Meenakshi Datta Ghosh, head of NACO, said that the government may have "ignored children with HIV in the past" but has "refocused" prevention and care programs in the past two years, according to the AP/Journal-Constitution. "Earlier, for whatever reason, children were not a priority," Datta Ghosh said, adding, "This has changed. We are looking at children and young people as a category of focused attention" (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 7/29). HRW compiled the report over eight months from interviews with more than 170 people, including 51 children (Rashid, Delhi Newsline, 7/28).