It was a step towards getting the voices of HIV- and AIDS-affected children heard. And children who took the stage fired a volley of hard-hitting questions at lawmakers, as well as eminent personalities from other walks of life, during the interaction organised by Plan India, an NGO, on the HIV/AIDS Bill.
Most questions revolved around the Bill that has been awaiting debate in Parliament for over two years. Drafted by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), the Bill seeks to protect the rights of those infected by HIV as well as their families and to promote prevention, awareness, care, support and treatment programmes.
The provisions of the Bill prohibit discrimination against those infected by HIV/AIDS, give them the right to confidentiality and strengthen their rights to education and property.
“Will the Bill ever get passed? It has been with the government for more than two years. What should we expect now?” they asked.
Cynicism was clear in their voices, but there was also some hope. “If the Bill gets passed, we can live a normal life. The society discriminates against us at all steps. This Bill will help us live freely,” said a HIV-infected child.
The children, who came from different parts of the Capital, interacted with parliamentarians Agatha K Sangma and Oscar Fernandes, film director Nagesh Kukunoor and cricketer Virender Sehwag, all of whom pledged to support the Bill.
“Children are the future of the country. I will support the Bill as it ensures that the rights of HIV/AIDS-affected children are protected,” said Rajya Sabha member Fernandes. He concluded his speech with Michael Jackson’s famous song We are the world.
Agatha Sangma, the youngest minister in the UPA government, said: “I will do all I can to mobilise this Bill in Parliament.... I will raise my voice for your rights.”
NACO estimates say approximately 1 lakh children under the age of 18 are infected with HIV. An estimated 70,000 children below the age of 15 are infected through parent-to-child transmission every year.
“Every number has a story and a face behind it. This makes it more difficult for me to speak here today. I appeal to the MPs to make this Bill their top priority,” said Kukunoor.
“I am here to express support to this cause. This Bill must be passed,” Sehwag said.