HIV-positive orphans are hounded out

11th April 2003 at 01:00

TWO HIV-positive children have been forced to leave four schools in the southern state of Kerala after angry protests by parents of their classmates.

The state government is now paying for home tuition of Beny, seven, and her brother Benson, five. Their parents, both now dead, were also HIV-positive.

Schools' rejection of the pair represents a failure for the authorities, which had tried to dispel fear and ignorance of their condition.

Kerala's chief minister, AK Antony, intervened to get them admitted to their last school after they went on hunger strike outside his office with their grandfather, in protest at their treatment.

But angry parents stopped the other 119 children at Kaithakuzhi government school, Kollam district, from attending classes and threatened to withdraw them altogether. Distraught officials said Aids awareness campaigns had had no effect.The state education minister had himself gone to the school to try to change parents' minds - but to no avail.

The children's grandfather, G Varghese Johnny, said he would do everything possible to see that they received a proper education.

Non-government agencies that deal with Aids awareness warned the case could open a Pandora's box as other HIV children could demand similar packages.

According to UN estimates for 1999 there were 160,000 HIV children under 15 in India. Estimates suggest there are now more than four million HIV cases in India but the social stigma of the disease remains.

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