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Sit-in opens school doors to HIV kids

Kochi, Feb. 16: Kerala has an impressive record in primary education but two children, five-year-old Benson and his seven-year-old sister Bency, had to stage a day-long fast in front of the chief minister’s office to get admission to a school.

The children had to take the extraordinary step because they were being systematically denied the right to education by several schools as their parents had died of AIDS.

The unusual struggle of the children bore fruit on Friday after they were admitted to a school at Kummanaloor in the southern district of Kollam.

The children, according to their grandfather Geevarghese, have been diagnosed as HIV-positive though their general health has been normal.

“They have only minor ailments which are common to all children,” Geevarghese told The Telegraph.

K.C. Chandy, the children’s father, died in December 1997 and mother Mary John died in September 2000. The children now stay with their aged grandparents at Kummanalloor and will start attending school from Monday, Geevarghese said over telephone.

The grandparents have been trying to get the children admitted to school since their mother’s death. But the children were rejected everywhere.

Finally, Benson and Bency and some of their wellwishers decided to take their plea straight to the state government’s headquarters. The daylong fast in front of the state secretariat, which houses the chief minister’s office, in Thiruvananthapuram was organised on Thursday.

The sit-in did have the desired effect as the chief minister’s office as well as Kerala’s AIDS Control Society took immediate note of it.

M.N. Gunavardhan, project controller of the society, was quick to despatch a team of society officials. They coordinated with the district collector and ensured Bency and Benson were granted admission to the local school.

According to Lalan C. Jacob, project officer of the National AIDS Control Organisation-aided partnerships for sexual health project, the deputy director of education in Kollam had ordered several months ago that admissions be given to the children.

But schools had turned them away mainly because of pressure from other children’s parents.

Jacob, also a wellwisher of the children, hoped the success of their struggle would act as an eye-opener for school authorities.

He said that two months ago, four other children — three boys and a girl from two families — at Punaloor had to face rejection from schools as their parents had died of AIDS.

The big test of compassion of Kerala’s “progressive society” for the HIV-positive would be on Monday when the children finally start going to school.

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