I was confronted by an article last week that detailed the case of little boy in Kurunegala, Sri Lanka who was ousted from his school on suspicion of the fact that he had HIV. The article went on to list how the Sri Lankan Education officials were attempting to highlight to local villagers that the certainty of this boy’s condition was not assured and therefore the need to panic, for now, was not justified.
Is it just me or are these officials seemingly missing the point entirely?! Whether or not this child is HIV Positive is entirely beside the point. A fair and equal society should mean the same rights and responsibilities for all citizens aside from their ethnicity, race, religion or health condition. These officials should instead be conveying the need for social inclusion without discrimination. They should be educating their community members around principles of inclusivity and communal awareness raising.
Lately, people have often prompted questions in my direction about the role of NGOs in societies. I mean in a country like Sri Lanka, economic advancement has placed the nation in the upper tier of middle income countries. When looking at poverty index rates, the country is outperforming all other South Asian nations. Literacy rates are higher than 90% island wide, education enrolment rates soar above 96%, life expectancy is substantially higher than any other nation in the region; and yet the prevalence of basic principles towards inclusion and anti-discrimination seem to be non-existent.
What of elements of equality, rights and quality of life for those who find themselves on the margins of society? Who is protecting these people? Surely, they have a right to existence and most frighteningly, why are officials allowing this irrational mob mentality to preach messages of fear and hate resulting the displacement and isolation of one of its own?
I maintain, that in a nation like Sri Lanka, it remains the responsibility of civil society to lobby the government to promote messages of social inclusion through wide scale awareness raising. There is a continued need to promote equality within all elements of community, beginning at pre-school level and integrating children of all abilities, including those with stigma related illnesses such as HIV into mainstream schooling systems. It is through this mechanism, and only this mechanism that we can avoid the abhorrent and blatant discrimination that this boy had to endure at such an early stage of his life.