03/07/2016, 17.48
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Child turned away from primary school on rumours he is HIV-positive

by Melani Manel Perera

All the schools in the Rehan Dilsara’s home district have refused to enrol the 6-year-old boy, following protests from other parents fearful of infection. Ignorance and discrimination are at the root of the rumours. The child’s case has highlighted the country’s high level of infection, and the social problems people living with the disease face. Two schools are willing to take him, but they are too far from his home. Sri Lanka’s president says he will do something.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The case of a Sri Lankan boy rejected by all the schools in the district of Kurunegala on the suspicion that he is HIV-positive might find a positive outcome.

Trinity College, a Christian school in Kandy, and Zahira College, a Muslim school in Kurunegala, are prepared to enrol the six-year-old child, as well as give him room and board.

For days, the story of Rehan Dilsara and his mother Chandani de Soysa has moved Sri Lankans. Their predicament underscores the difficulties people with HIV face as well as the many forms of social discrimination to which they are subject.

According to a report by the United Nations, Sri Lanka is one of the countries with the highest HIV infection rate in the world, mainly due to poverty and ignorance about the disease, which promote its spread. In 2014, 3,200 new AIDS cases were reported among adults and 100 among minors.

Rehan’s story became public last week, when the mother staged a protest in front of the Education Office in Kuliyapitiya, where she lives. For days, she sat in front of the entrance holding her son, eventually attracting media attention.

She explained that for more than two months, the parents of the other children in Kuliyapitiya kept her son from going to the local school.

"I do not know who is interested in circulating the false news that my son is ill," she said. She slammed the protest by the parents of 186 pupils who forced the school principal to refuse her son’s enrolment.

Everything began when rumours began circulating after the boy’s father died last year from sepsis tuberculosis. Rehan underwent tests and was found to be in good health.

Two schools in Kandy and Kurunegala have said that they are willing to take the child; however, given the fact that they are far from the boy’s village, their offer does not solve all the problems.

Sri Lanka’s Deputy Minister of Social Empowerment and Welfare Ranjan Ramanayake waded into the controversy.  "The mother is too poor to afford transportation to either of the two locations,” he said. “Even if he gets room and board, it is not good to separate the mother from her child."

For his part, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena expressed his solidarity towards the woman and promised to do something.

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