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Court glare on HIV bias

New Delhi, March 3: The Supreme Court today asked the Centre, all states and Union territories and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights to respond to a plea to stop schools from discriminating against HIV-positive students or children of afflicted parents.

Such discrimination is widespread, the petition filed by the NGO Naz Foundation said, listing a series of incidents reported from states like Bengal, Odisha, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra, among others.

Justices B.S. Chauhan and J. Chelameshwar issued notices to all the governments and the child rights panel and sought their replies within four weeks.

In its petition, filed through counsel Purshottam Sharma Tripathi, the NGO said affected children or children of HIV-positive parents were being denied their fundamental right to education.

Children were being denied admission or, if already in school, were even being expelled, the NGO alleged.

“They have also been publicly ridiculed by school authorities, humiliated and treated unfairly… to the extent that they have been segregated from other children… and… made to clean toilets and classrooms.

“Moreover, the confidentiality of the HIV-positive status of the children has been routinely breached, leading to violation of their right to privacy,” the petitioner said, adding that the “rampant acts of stigmatisation and discrimination” that followed “undermined their human dignity”.

Such discrimination, the PIL said, amounted to infringement of their fundamental rights under Articles 21 (liberty), 21A (free and compulsory education) and 14 (equality before law).

Among the reported incidents the NGO listed was one from Calcutta where two HIV-positive orphan boys were denied admission to high school. That was in November 2009, months before the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, which prohibits discrimination in any form against children between six and 14, came into effect.

The law did not stop some parents in Belgaum, Karnataka, from demanding in September 2010 that 22 HIV-positive children studying in a school be segregated.

A month earlier, in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, a six-year-old HIV-positive girl had been expelled by her school, while her mother, who was also HIV-positive, lost her job.

In December the same year, eight HIV-affected children in Gurgaon, Haryana, were expelled from two schools, one of them run under the aegis of the Sarva Shikhsha Abhiyan, the government’s universal education scheme.

Earlier, in July 2004, two siblings in Thiruvananthapuram were not only expelled from school but also forced to leave their home along with their HIV-positive mother. Although they were readmitted, after the chief minister intervened, they were segregated from other students.