Children with AIDS-related HIV are being turned away and excluded from primary and secondary schools throughout the UK in contravention of anti-discrimination laws.
An investigation by the National Aids Trust has uncovered six cases of discrimination against children as young as four after their HIV status was disclosed or discovered.
Head teachers have told parents of affected children that other teachers, parents and even dinner ladies would need to be told of their confidential medical status.
In one 'shocking' example, according to the charity, a child who did not know about her condition was made aware of it by a teacher. She was later bullied and left the school.
The National Aids Trust began investigating after social workers in Hertfordshire and Lancashire reported cases where parents looking for new schools were told their children were not welcome after they revealed the diagnosis. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 it is illegal to discriminate against anyone with HIV. The charity has repeatedly asked for specific guidance on HIV for teachers from the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF).
The department's disability team told the charity there are 'no plans' to update an existing information kit for schools on how to implement the act, which only mentions HIV 'in passing' according to National Aids Trust chief executive Deborah Jack.
Jack, who has been pressing ministers on the issue for six months, said last night clear guidance was needed for head teachers to prevent these 'horror stories'. She said that parents should not be pressured into revealing their child's diagnosis because the risk to others was minimal.
'We feel incredibly frustrated and quite angry that the department is not taking this more seriously,' she said. 'We have heard of a handful of children who have been very seriously affected and we know there are more, as people don't want to stand out and draw attention to a condition as stigmatised as HIV. The case studies show it's happening right across the UK, not just in pockets. We think the department is failing in its duty.
'The guidance should set out the fact that it's not necessary for a child's parents to disclose their status and they should not feel worried about it. Best practice would be that if the parents do disclose the status - and we would like parents to think school is a safe place to do that - that the information is not shared with anyone without the parents' consent.'
She said there was an unnecessary fear of how HIV was transmitted even among teachers, who needed to be supported and educated. 'The teachers themselves don't know the facts and you almost can't blame them for having these fears. But they are the very people who should be educating a new generation about HIV.'
Jack said it was important to keep the child's status confidential to prevent bullying and to avoid disclosing their parents' HIV status. 'If there was no stigma and having HIV was like any other health condition, we would be less worried. At the moment we don't feel confident to advise parents to tell anyone, because we do hear these horror stories.'
One mother, who felt pressured to reveal her daughter's HIV status at a preliminary meeting with the head, sent her to a different school after being told that dinner ladies would have to be informed in case there was an accident.
The mother said: 'There's no risk to the other children - if anything there's a risk to my daughter. I do not wish to make the situation common knowledge before my child knows herself.'
The National Aids Trust discovered two cases of children who were forced to leave schools because of bullying linked to their HIV status- including one in East Anglia where the child was told she had the condition by a teacher who wrongly presumed that she knew of her diagnosis.
· There are about 1,500 children living with HIV in the UK, including 1,000 under 15.
· On average just over 100 children are diagnosed with HIV in the UK every year.
· Having an infected child in school poses no risk to staff or pupils. There is no known case of an HIV transmission occurring at school.
· HIV cannot be passed on by spitting, biting, small cuts or grazes, sharing utensils or toilet seats.
· Children who need medication may take it at home and will appear normal and healthy at school.
· Resources for teachers about HIV in schools are available from nat.org.uk.
- More on children and HIV and AIDS
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Last updated 16/07/2008 05:00:23