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Well begun, not half done

The existence of seperate schools for HIV+ will make it easy for ‘regular’ schools to deny HIV-positive children admission, on grounds of their ‘special’ status.

india Updated: Dec 06, 2007 21:34 IST

The Nagpur Municipal Corporation’s (NMC) decision to set up a number of neighbourhood schools for 85-odd HIV-infected children should be endorsed, with a number of caveats in place. For, the immediate response to the idea of ‘HIV-positive’ schools is one of trepidation. The natural fallout of the move might very well be that matters only worsen for HIV-positive children. Clubbing together the affected might make them targets of greater discrimination. The second fear is that the existence of such schools will make it doubly easy for ‘regular’ schools to deny HIV-positive children admission, on grounds of their ‘special’ status.

That apart, the fact that it is the state civic body that has made the proposal is affirmation of the existence of the biggest obstacle faced by Aids-affected and HIV-positive children — sensitisation of those directly responsible for their successful integration into mainstream schools. In itself, the move is acknowledgment that the government has failed to enforce rules against non-discriminatory practices in State-run schools. So, it would be worth asking what kind of sensitisation, orientation or training the teachers in the proposed schools will be exposed to? It is one thing for an NGO or a group of HIV-affected women to run schools for Aids-affected children, as has been done in Bangalore and in Warangal district, Andhra Pradesh. And it is quite another for a state government to run such schools, complete with healthcare. Parental pressure and staff hostility have been the main reasons for school managements to turn away affected children, who, then, have had simply no access to education whatsoever. Many such children are either orphaned or living with single surviving parents. Ideally, being in the integrated environment of a ‘regular’ school can help them grow normally, emotionally and intellectually.

The NMC, it is hoped, knows that its move is, at best, tactical, to provide some access to education. But such schools are only stop-gap arrangements. It is the discriminatory practices in all schools that need to be tackled on a war-footing. The larger goal should remain integration in regular schools.