Children have right to know about their HIV status
AIDS has become one of the major health threats to children. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), one in seven people dying of HIV-related illness worldwide is a child under the age of 15 and at least half of all children born with HIV die before they reach the age of two.
Each day, some 1 500 children under 15 years of age become infected with this deadly virus, of which an estimated 90 percent live in sub-Saharan Africa.
It is confirmed that young people remain at the centre of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in terms of rates of infection, vulnerability, impact, and potential for change.
They have grown up in a world ravaged by AIDS but many still lack comprehensive information and correct knowledge about how to prevent HIV infection.
Many children are born with the virus, because their mothers do not have access to treatment that could reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
Many more children get HIV during their childhood from unprotected sex in the form of sexual abuse, while others get it when they are exposed to contaminated blood by using needles for drug injections.
The majority of children living with HIV struggle to cope with the virus because their parents or guardians do not give them the information even the facts about their own HIV infection or space to make their own choices.
Their caregiver did not tell them their HIV status for a long time and that makes it hard for them to make decisions about their treatment and other aspects of their lives.
Many parents are reluctant to tell their children that they are infected with HIV.
They want to protect the child from the stigma they experience themselves, and mothers in particular may feel guilty for having infected their kids or worry that their own status may be revealed.
Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children under the age of 18 have a right to information and material aimed at promoting their social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health as well as right to preventive health care, sex education and family planning education and services. Children have the right to age-appropriate information about their HIV status and should not be the last to find out that they are HIV-positive.
Just like adults, children have the right to life, survival and development and the right to have their views respected.
Children are sexual beings and need access to age-appropriate information about sex, including HIV transmission and other sexual and reproductive health issues. HIV-positive children are often not given appropriate information about HIV transmission and their right to make healthy sexual choices.
Juliane Kippenberg, senior children's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch in Kenya, once remarked that parents, caregivers, and health workers who avoid telling children about their HIV status could unknowingly do a lot of harm to such kids.
Kippenberg has warned that by hiding the truth from children, in the long-run parents shatters their children’s emotional and physical health and carry stigma about HIV to the next generation.
“Children who do not know they are HIV-positive may be less likely to take their medication regularly, which can lead to drug resistance and death.
Children who belatedly find out that they are HIV-infected may be more likely to internalise stigma and feel betrayed by those who hide their status,” Kippenberg said.
She said if adults withhold such important information for years, children may sense a problem and live in great anxiety, saying that some children are confronted with the news of their illness through public comments from others, and experience trauma and depression.
I, therefore, feel that there is need to provide clear, accessible guidelines for disclosure of HIV status that recommend consideration of disclosure to children starting from age 6, taking into account each child's cognitive and emotional maturity, family dynamics, and the clinical context.
Government needs to encourage health workers to disclose HIV status to children within these new guidelines if they felt they are ready.
But this must be accompanied by proper counselling and ensuring that life skills education programme take into account the situation of children living with HIV in addition to prevention methods, and that the programmes are carried out in a sensitive manner.