Cases of Discrimination Against HIV-Positive Children Discovered in U.K., Group Says
HIV-positive children throughout the United Kingdom are being turned away and excluded from primary and secondary schools, which is against the country's anti-discrimination laws, London's Observer reports.
According to an investigation by the National AIDS Trust, which discovered six cases of discrimination against HIV-positive children as young as age four, head teachers have told parents of HIV-positive children that teachers, other parents and school personnel would have to be told of the children's medical status. The National AIDS Trust began investigating discrimination after social workers in Hertfordshire and Lancashire reported cases where parents looking for new schools were told their children were not welcome after their HIV status was revealed, the Observer reports. Under the country's Disability Discrimination Act of 2005, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone living with HIV. The trust repeatedly has asked for specific HIV/AIDS guidelines for teachers from the Department of Children, Schools and Families, according to the Observer. However, the department's disability team told the trust that there are "no plans" to update an existing information kit for schools on how to implement the act, which only mentions HIV "in passing," according to the group.
Deborah Jack, chief executive for the trust, said clear guidance is needed for head teachers to prevent discrimination. She also said parents should not feel pressured to reveal their children's HIV status because of the minimal risk of transmitting the disease to other students. "We feel incredibly frustrated and quite angry that the department is not taking this more seriously," Jack said, adding, "We have heard of a handful of children who have been very seriously affected, and we know there are more, as people don't want to stand out and draw attention to a condition as stigmatized as HIV. The case studies show it's happening right across the U.K., not just in pockets. We think the department is failing in its duty."
According to Jack, if parents do disclose their children's HIV status to school officials, the best practice would be for the officials not to share the information without parental consent. In addition, Jack said that a lack of knowledge among teachers and others about how HIV is transmitted has created "unnecessary fear" and that teachers need to be supported and educated. "The teachers themselves don't know the facts, and you almost can't blame them for having these fears. But they are the very people who should be educating a new generation about HIV." A child's HIV status also should remain confidential to prevent bullying and to avoid revealing parents' HIV status, Jack said. "If there was no stigma, and having HIV was like any other health condition, we would be less worried. At the moment, we don't feel confident to advise parents to tell anyone, because we do hear these horror stories" (Thornton, Observer, 7/13).