HIV: An urgent need of a law

Recently, there was noise about a law to protect the rights of transgenders and other sexual minorities. 

When any person faces some kind of injustice in the society, the first thing that comes to his mind is to approach the court of law and seek justice and protection. There are hundreds of laws to protect the rights of different kind of citizenry, which have been passed at different times, as and when the need arose.  Suitable amendments too are being made when the situations demand.

There is no special law for the protection of people living with HIV (PLHIV).  Of course, they are equal to all other citizens and can seek justice under the existing laws.  But they encounter certain special situations, which cannot be covered under the existing laws.  For instance, when a HIV+ positive person is denied treatment by any doctor or hospital, he needs a law under which he can go to the court.

Recently, I heard of a pregnant HIV+ woman, who was being denied admission by many hospitals, for delivery.  What should this poor woman do?  Likewise, when a school treats HIV+ children with bias by segregating them or even dismisses them, under which law can the school authorities be questioned?  Which law protects the rights of a sincere employee when he is thrown out of service merely because the management came to know that he is HIV+?

Like this, there are plenty of unique problems that HIV+ people face in this society.  The guarantee of equality in the Indian constitution is available only against state entities and there is no restriction on discriminatory practices in the private sector, be it in healthcare, employment or education.  

Law in place

Children face very peculiar legal hurdles.  Ms. Surekha of Lawyers’ Collective, Bangalore, who have been working to bring a specific law in place to protect the interests of HIV+ persons and persons afflicted with AIDS, listed a number of cases which have come to their doors from people afflicted with HIV/AIDS.

People come knocking the doors of the legal system to get the guardianship of person and properties of minor, especially when the parents have left behind assets in which minor’s rights have to be protected.  The LCHAU (Lawyers’ Collective HIV/AIDS Unit) have been approached for assistance in obtaining birth certificates for admission to schools, access to social security schemes, etc.  Ms. Surekha mentioned about the growing number of families headed by children due to HIV/AIDS.  In such cases, if none of the children has attained majority, none can act as a guardian for the siblings for the purposes of schooling or opening a bank account or receiving pension or accessing welfare schemes of the Government or representing them in court!  Children have no property rights and hence if the parents die leaving property, the relatives may take undue advantage of the vulnerable position of the children and misuse the property.  The children will not even know about the violation of their rights under Succession Act.

The LCHAU has made extensive studies on the various challenges that people afflicted with HIV/AIDS face around the country, the special challenges that children face, the insufficiencies of the existing laws in protecting their rights, the various points that a law should cover and drafted a HIV/AIDS bill which was submitted to NACO in the year 2006 to be presented to the Parliament in the year 2007.  The bill is yet to be passed in the Parliament.  The draft bill, among other provisions, suggests the following measures for the protection of children orphaned due to HIV/AIDS as community based interventions: The draft of the Bill is available on www.lawyerscollective.org.
This bill, though named as HIV/AIDS Bill, is an all-inclusive Bill, it specially ensures that the interests of the most vulnerable people are also taken care of, because the final intention of one and all is to prevent HIV/AIDS from becoming an epidemic.  Thus by providing for a right against discrimination, right to informed consent, confidentiality and easy access to treatment, people will be encouraged to come forward readily to undergo the test, because they will be confident that there will be no adverse effects if they are tested HIV+. All persons get empowered to question the Government bodies, which makes them more responsible, accountable, consultative and democratic, thus creating an atmosphere of cooperative effort, where every department, NGO and individual becomes a stake-holder to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and ensure that it no longer is a synonym for fear, neglect, discrimination and violence but commands empowerment, compassion, united action and triumph. Let us all work towards getting this bill enacted as a law soon.

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