The need of education for every child is mentioned in the UNHCR mandate, and also the UNICEF policy on children’s education is quoted as thus , “We are committed to ensuring that all children – regardless of gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background or circumstances – realize their right to a quality education.
To that end, UNICEF supports innovative programmes and initiatives that focus on the world’s most excluded and vulnerable children, including girls, the disabled, ethnic minorities, the rural and urban poor, victims of conflict and natural disasters and children affected by HIV and AIDS.’’
Sri Lanka has a society which believes in anything which has “special’’ interest, which of course comes with the social background , and give wings to any story without getting it confirmed first. This reminds us of the phrase saying ‘’ Making mountains out of molehills’’ and the burning incident in Kuliyapitiya has raised such concern, where a small child who had qualified for grade one admission was not admitted to the school due to a rumour which that his mother was HIV positive.
This implies a question of how justifiable this accusation has been. Whatever the real circumstances might be , for a child of 6 years it is too much of a pressure, since he knows nothing of the situation. This was specially when it was proved that he was not infected with the deadly disease.
This bizarre, but heart warming issue did not take long to be exposed through the media, both internationally and locally. After informing the necessary authorities, educational and divisional secretariats, the child was granted permission to enter Bohandiya Kanishta Vidyalaya , Kuliyapitiya , the closest school to his house.
Though the child’s mother had appealed to the School authorities for her child to be taken to the school, they have not given an ear to it. Chandani De Soysa, the child’s mother , finally lodged a complaint at the Human Rights commission regarding this problem.
The parents and the principal of the school were in unison in refusing child’s admission, even parents threatening to remove their children from the school if the child was taken in. Because of this problem, his admission to the school had been delayed. Rumours were spread fast saying that the child’s father was HIV positive, and the mother had been infected with the same disease.
The inquired from the relevant authorities about the situation, so that necessary steps were taken to solve the matter. The asked Ms. Kanchana Subasinghe, Kurunegala District Coordinating officer for the Sri Lanka Child Protection Authority , about the situation.
“The problem has occurred to the lack of knowledge about the whole situation. We hope to do an awareness campaign on this issue, including the government officials, the head of the HIV prevention Unit in Colombo, Educational officials, Human rights representatives and also those who hold respectable positions in the village. From the tests, it has been claimed that the child was completely healthy. People have no knowledge about issues like these, and they tend to believe anything without finding out the real truth first.
The mother’s issue of being HIV positive is a private matter. It is from the mother’s side. We do not know for sure what the real truth is. All we know is it is just a rumour at the moment. She has even breast fed the child, and also has been abroad. She went abroad to bring up the family leaving her child with his grandmother.
At this time, they were not legally married. Her husband had left her while the child was three months old. When he developed an illness he had been admitted to the IDH, the child’s mother, Chandani had helped him and had looked after him after she returned home. We have the child’s reports. And we have informed all the relevant authorities about this matter.
Nobody even goes near the child, due to this misunderstanding. It is a pity because he needs to be educated. If there are any educational facilities they should be given to him. Since he’s a small child he is not aware of what’s happening around, but this is not fair’’. She further stated, when asked if there would be a positive response the people after the awareness campaign which is due to be held in the school, “ It may not change overnight. It might take some time. It is difficult to change something which has been ‘rooted’ ‘in the minds of the people. Even if the medical specialists are confirming that there is nothing to fear, then there should be a change.
The media was very supportive. But they should be careful when they are telecasting, showing or publishing the pictures of the child and the mother, because it is not good for their dignity and image. In rural areas like these, people are not very educated or knowledgeable about the outside world. Therefore these issues spread fast. At the moment the mother has been advised not to give any comment to the media. She is not in a good mental condition now.
She did not go to the Human Rights Commission. It was only after seeing the reports of this issue that the Human Rights officials inquired about the matter. She was advised to lodge a complaint. The HIV unit of the National Hospital Colombo too, helped her. It was the school principal who had first created this pandemonium by refusing to take the child to the school, even refusing to take the application, after hearing that the mother was HIV positive.
The child’s mother had wanted to put her child to the Bohandiya Kanishta Vidyalaya because it was the closest school for her to send the child. Therefore in general, all this is just some village gossip spread throughout the whole area and it is completely false,’’ Ms. Subasinghe who is also the Psychosocial officer of the CPA said.
Mr. Ediriweera Gunesekara, Media spokesman for the Child Protection Authority, said that the child had been given a school and that a discussion was going to be held in the particular school regarding this incident , when the paper earlier inquired from him about the matter.
. “The problem is , that the school authorities do not want to take the child to the school. All the relevant authorities, including the child protection authority have got together regarding this incident and we hope that there will be some solution after the discussion.
I believe the media too, should have acted more wisely and responsibly. We knew about this incident. But we did not want to make an issue out of it. We cannot speak about the mother’s health condition since it is a private matter. Certain media institutions including a private TV channel exposed this incident bringing discomfort and pain to both the mother and the child who have been victimized quite enough already. When it is exposed in this manner by showing their faces and videos, how can that mother face the society? You’re also a lady. How would you feel? It is highly condemnable. At least please convey this message through your media. We hope that everything will turn back to normal gradually,” he expressed.
Mr. Gunesekara’s pledge seems to be logical, for in these cases all parties, including the public and the media should act responsibly. At the end of it all, it is only those who are victimized and affected by the incident that will go through the pain and humiliation. We cannot forget how the brutal murder of Seya Sadewni was hacked by all forms of media, even exposing her naked body for the public to see, especially through social media.
However, the discussions held on March 3 among the parents, staff and the government officials was claimed to be unsuccessful amidst all the efforts which were taken by the relevant authorities to make the 6 year old get admission. According to the latest reports, the parents and the villagers had objected and had not allowed the officials even to speak.
Ms. Kanchana Subasinghe, again told the what happened after the discussion as thus. “Actually the discussion which was held among the people of the area and the school authorities was unsuccessful. We wanted to conduct an awareness programme indicating that there was no need to fear HIV, and how to be aware of it, plus trying to get the child in to the school.
All the respective institutions, including the Human Rights Commission, Child Protection Authority, the Department of Education, and the head of the HIV prevention Unit in Colombo were present on this occasion. But they did not even give a chance to the officials to speak.
As soon as I started my speech they started objecting and refused to listen, saying, they would not allow the child to enter the school. Thereafter the North Western province minister also arrived, but he too, was unable to control the situation. However, he promised that within two weeks, he will put the child to another school. We suspect if it will work out in this situation, where the story has spread everywhere and everyone knows about it, but we hope for the best.
Stigma and discrimination are a threat to children’s rights; UNICEF SL Representative
According to Ms. Una McCauley – UNICEF Sri Lanka Representative, “Every child has the right to education in a safe and fun learning environment that values and respects their dignity. Stigma and discrimination are threats to children’s rights and can only be addressed by communities coming together at a local level with increased awareness. Such public awareness, education and communication are essential to foster social change, end stigma and discrimination to help people overcome their fear and prejudice and dispel misconceptions. It is our collective duty as a society to protect child rights.”
The child’s mother has fallen down mentally; therefore we are giving her some counselling.’’ According to the Coordinating Officer of the CPA, the child’s mother had been with her partner since the age of 14, they had not got married.
“The mother refuses to give the child for probation saying that she will commit suicide along with the child. This is a very sad situation. We didn’t allow her to attend the discussion either, fearing of unexpected circumstances. This is all because of people’s insensible attitudes towards certain issues’’. Speaking further on the incident, Ms. Subasinghe said that all the government officials in the area were supportive in this matter.
Mr. Gamini Illangarathne , Kurunegala district secretary , Ms. Natasha Balendra, chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority and all the government officials of the district were extremely supportive. Subasinghe said that the media played a very important role in this matter, and everything was well coordinated. She said that they would continue to proceed with their efforts, till they found a positive solution. She said it was going to be a tiresome effort.
“It is difficult to change the attitudes of these people. We, along with all the government officials tried our best.
But we continue with our efforts to conduct awareness campaign and do justice to the child. We will not give up.’’
Therefore all that we can do is to hope the relevant authorities will be able to do the needful and wait and see the final outcome of this matter , hoping the innocent little child who is unaware of all this fuss and din , will fulfill his dream of entering a school , with his small school satchel, to a world of his own, with his small classmates, away from the cruel , inhuman society in which he was born , at least for a while.