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Romania kids with HIV face discrimination
 
 
  BUCHAREST, Romania, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- An international agency says Romania's children infected with the HIV virus face widespread discrimination in areas from healthcare to education.
 
In a 104-page report, Human Rights Watch said the Romanian government failed to promote integration for some 7,200 people aged from 15 to 19, leaving these boys and girls unprepared for adult life.
 
A majority of the children were infected with HIV virus, which can cause AIDS, on the 1986-91 time frame as a result of careless government policies.
 
These included injecting small children with unscreened blood in the mistaken belief that this would improve their immunological status, the agency said.
 
The report documents violations of the rights of the children in education, health, privacy and information.
 
"The Romanian government has known about these children for more than 15 years, but it still doesn't have a plan for what will happen when they turn 18," said Clarisa Bencomo, children's rights researcher for Human Rights Watch.
 
"Unless the authorities take urgent measures now, unchecked discrimination will push far too many of these children to the margins of society."
 
Romania: Discrimination Closes Doors for Children With HIV
 
Subjected to Abuse, Thousands Are Ill-Prepared to Enter Adulthood

 
(Bucharest, August 2, 2006) - Thousands of Romanian children and youth living with HIV face widespread discrimination that keeps many of them from attending school, obtaining necessary medical care, working, or even learning about their medical condition, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
 
"Unless the authorities take urgent measures now, unchecked discrimination will push far too many of these children to the margins of society". Clarisa Bencomo, children's rights researcher for Human Rights Watch
 
The government's failure to combat discrimination and promote integration has left many of these children vulnerable to abuse and neglect, ill-informed about sexuality, and unprepared for adult life, Human Rights Watch has found.
 
More than 7,200 Romanian children and youth aged 15 to 19 are living with HIV. The vast majority were infected with HIV between 1986 and 1991 as a direct result of government policies that exposed them to contaminated needles and "microtransfusions" in which small children were injected with unscreened blood in the mistaken belief that this would improve their immunological status.
 
The 104-page report, "'Life Doesn't Wait:' Romania's Failure to Protect and Support Children and Youth Living with HIV," documents violations of the rights of these children and youth to education, health, privacy and information. It also shows how the authorities fail to protect these children and youth from discrimination, abuse and neglect.
 
"The Romanian government has known about these children for more than 15 years, but it still doesn't have a plan for what will happen when they turn 18," said Clarisa Bencomo, children's rights researcher for Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "Unless the authorities take urgent measures now, unchecked discrimination will push far too many of these children to the margins of society."
 
Fewer than 60 percent of children living with HIV attend any form of schooling, and those who do risk ostracism and abuse by teachers and other students, and even expulsion if their HIV status becomes known. Some are inappropriately relegated to special schools with inferior resources, or barred from attending vocational programs in fields such as food service and hairdressing, for which Romanian law requires mandatory HIV testing.
 
Human Rights Watch found that doctors frequently refuse to treat children and youth living with HIV, or harass them to discourage them from seeking care. The problem is especially acute for children needing emergency medical care. It is a critical issue for those with serious mental illnesses who lack access to outpatient treatment, but whose health would be endangered by the substandard conditions in many Romanian psychiatric facilities.
 
Bureaucratic delays and discrimination bar many children and youth living with HIV from obtaining necessary medications for opportunistic diseases. Despite the government's stated commitment to providing universal access to antiretroviral therapy, interruptions in antiretroviral supplies are common in some of Romania's counties. Doctors told Human Rights Watch that government policies prevented hospitals from creating buffer supplies to compensate for anticipated delivery delays or shortages.
 
Breaches of confidentiality by medical personnel, school officials and government workers are common and rarely punished, despite the often severe consequences such breaches have for children and their families. At the same time, harsh punishments for knowingly transmitting HIV exacerbate discrimination and encourage government officials, police, doctors and even private individuals to engage in ad hoc "monitoring" of children and youth living with HIV. The risk of prosecution or monitoring appears to fall disproportionately on girls and women living with HIV. It may make HIV-positive youth less likely to seek assistance and support in a whole range of areas - from police protection to healthcare.
 
Doctors cannot inform children of their HIV status without parental consent, which prevents many children from making informed decisions on medical treatments, educational and employment plans, and their sexual lives. An optional class on reproductive health, offered once during the seventh grade, is inaccessible to the 40 percent of children living with HIV who do not attend school, as well as to those children and youth who are sexually active but who have not yet reached the seventh grade.
 
HIV-positive youth may be denied jobs arbitrarily because Romanian law provides for mandatory medical testing for a wide variety of jobs where the risk of HIV transmission is minimal, and fails to protect individuals from HIV tests performed without informed consent by public and private employers. Employment discrimination cases are difficult to litigate and may draw further attention to plaintiffs' HIV status because court documents are not private.
 
The Romanian authorities rarely enforce laws prohibiting discrimination against people living with HIV, and the law provides few real sanctions for those who practice discrimination. The agencies charged with protecting children from discrimination and abuse lack skilled staff to monitor, investigate and intervene on the behalf of children. Children and youth living with HIV who report instances of serious abuse rarely receive meaningful assistance.
 
More than 700 children living with HIV remain in extended family placements, foster care placements, group homes operated by nongovernmental organizations, and state-run group homes and orphanages. They face an uncertain fate when they turn 18. While some might be eligible for extended protection measures, no procedures exist to help them apply. Many will be unable to support themselves after turning 18 without significant assistance.
 
"Romania has come a long way toward fulfilling its commitment to provide antiretroviral medications to those who need them," Bencomo said. "But children living with HIV need more than just medications. Even more than adults, they need protection and support."
 
Human Rights Watch called on the Romanian government to protect the rights of children and youth living with HIV by:
 
- Ensuring their access to appropriate education, including information on reproductive health and HIV;
- Ensuring their access to medical care, including medications and suitable care for those with mental and physical disabilities;
- Ending mandatory HIV testing as a condition for employment;
- Ending the criminalization of the knowing transmission of HIV;
- Preparing those in foster, extended family and residential care for independent living; and,
- Providing appropriate continuing services to young adults who many require them.
 
 
 
 
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