HIV fear: Probe sought on harassment of Girl in Ganemulla

A girl in Ganemulla has been harassed by her school over HIV fears, a BBC Sinhala report said on Friday.

The girl’s mother is believed to be HIV positive and as a result the head master of the school she attends has reportedly been harassing her. Former Sri Lanka cricket captain tweeted saying that if the story is true it must be investigated.

“This needs to be addressed and fast. Unacceptable if the girl or her mother or her family is being harassed. Such a colossal lack of awareness from school authorities is deeply concerning,” he tweeted.

The girl had been prevented from entering the school premises last year by parents of other children in the school. However on the intervention of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, the girl was allowed to resume her education in the school.

The BBC Sinhala service however reported that the girl is facing harassment in the school at the hands of the school head master. The girl says she has become a target of the head master and as a result other girls do not even play with her.

In 2016 the Supreme Court issued a directive to prohibit HIV discrimination in education settings.

The country’s highest court issued the directive in response to a fundamental rights violation petition filed by Chandani De Soysa from Kuliyapitiya.

De Soysa became a widow in 2015. When she tried to enrol her five-year old son in the local school he was denied admission because he was believed to be living with HIV.

With support from UNAIDS and the Positive Women’s Network, De Soysa filed a petition with the Supreme Court. The court’s directive stated that the rights to an education of children living with or affected by HIV must be upheld based on the country’s constitutional directive of universal access to education for children between the ages of 5-14.

The Supreme Court also went a step further reminding the State of its obligation to take necessary measures to protect, promote and respect the human rights of people living with HIV in order to eliminate discrimination that is experienced by them. That was the first court decision in South Asia at the time to make a general pronouncement recognising the human rights of all people living with HIV, and set a precedent for future cases in Sri Lanka challenging HIV discrimination experienced in settings other than education.

There were an estimated 3 300 people living with HIV in Sri Lanka in 2014, including around 100 children (ages 0 to 14 years). There have been other cases of children being denied school admission because of their association with HIV, which have been settled through mediation.

Discrimination against students affected by HIV also occurs in other countries in South Asia. In India, a petition filed by Naz Foundation (India) Trust, which provides care and support to children living with HIV, through the Lawyers Collective relied on publicly available reports to show that children have been systematically targeted because of their association with HIV – they have faced repeated incidents of humiliation, suspension, violence, segregation and expulsion.

HIV-related stigma and discrimination continue to prevent people from accessing key education and health services as well as reduce employment opportunities. Research conducted by people living with HIV in 13 countries in Asia from 2009 to 2014 found that an average of 12% of HIV-positive people surveyed reported exclusion from social gatherings and activities and 23% said they had been verbally insulted, harassed or threatened.

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