09/20/2008, 00.00
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Vietnam, HIV-positive children abandoned by parents and government

by Nguyen Hung
In the former Saigon, there are 1,750 children sick with AIDS or HIV positive, subjected to marginalization and discrimination. The communist regime is blocking the activity of the Church and of humanitarian associations, which are calling for greater "freedom and trust" to help the minors.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - Marginalization, discrimination, little opportunity to complete basic schooling, and fears over an uncertain future, devoid of concrete prospects for a better life. This is the reality for 1,750 children in Ho Chi Minh City who suffer from AIDS or are HIV-positive, in the context of a total number of people sick with the disease that in the former Saigon alone - according to official estimates - numbers 34,909 cases, although the real number could be twice as high.

The lack of a stable family to take care of them is one of the main problems that HIV-positive children must face: according to the statistics, out of 100 children living in the district of Go Vap in Ho Chi Minh City, 48 suffer because of the absence of their parents, while 22 say that they are concerned over a future that they see as irreparably compromised.

Despite the slogan so dear to "Uncle Ho" - as Ho Chi Minh was familiarly called - according to which "all citizens are equal and enjoy equal rights", the sick face significant discrimination and are marginalized from the rest of society. The problem is even more serious for the youngest, who even at school must face a disparity of treatment that in many cases amounts to genuine isolation.

Tam, nine years old and HIV-positive, says that many of the other children don't want to play with him because they are "afraid". A woman says that she helped another child find a place at an elementary school in the city, which he attended regularly for six months "without learning anything". When she went to the school to ask for an explanation, she saw that the boy was kept far from the other children, in a corner of the class, without any contact with the others. The teacher justified herself by saying that she was "worried" that the other children could "contract the infection" even by sharing the same physical space.

In order to address the emergency, the Catholic Church and various humanitarian organizations (26 in all) have begun a series of projects dedicated to HIV-positive children. It is a charitable activity intended to alleviate the sufferings of the sick, but in many cases it is blocked by the government, which "is afraid of the initiatives of religious associations". For this reason, the volunteers are asking for greater freedom of action: "if the authorities continue to maintain their prejudiced towards religion", they say, "the country can never make progress in social equality and human rights".

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