India's AIDS fight undermined by abuses against children
Children infected with HIV/AIDS are routinely discriminated against in India, and the government's failure to address this abuse is crippling its fight against the epidemic, Human Rights Watch warned.
In Future Forsaken: Abuses Against Children Affected by HIV/AIDS in India, the group says that many doctors will not treat or even touch infected children and that schools sometimes expel or separate children because they or their parents are HIV-positive. Orphanages and other residential institutions may deny entry to HIV-positive children.
"Children from families affected by AIDS may be denied an education, pushed onto the street, forced into the worst forms of child labor, or otherwise exploited, all of which puts them at greater risk of contracting HIV," according to Human Rights Watch.
About 5.1 million people in India are living with HIV/AIDS, including hundreds of thousands of children, according to official statistics.
"If the Indian government is serious about fighting the country's AIDS epidemic, it should stop ignoring children affected by AIDS and start protecting them from abuse," said Zama Coursen-Neff, senior researcher with the Children's Rights Division and the report's author.
Information about HIV is scarce in India, with fewer than half of all secondary schools offering any AIDS education, the report says. Also, the government does little to inform millions of Indian children who are not in school but on the streets, at work, in institutions, in nonformal schools and at home.
While some government officials have begun to speak out about the need to reach children viewed as "innocent victims" of AIDS, those who are particularly at risk, such as street children or child sex workers, are blamed for their situation and their needs are ignored.
To stop the epidemic's spread, the government needs to prohibit discrimination against HIV/AIDS sufferers, ensure that infected children receive medical care, increase access to schools, provide care to abandoned or orphaned children and expand education on the disease, the report says (Human Rights Watch release, July 29).
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