Why Human Rights Should Occupy the Centre of the Global AIDS Struggle
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The rights and needs of children and young people are largely ignored in the response to HIV, even though they are the hardest hit in many places.
HIV is significantly an epidemic of young people. Children are born with HIV at alarming rates despite proven methods of preventing HIV transmission during pregnancy and childbirth. Youth aged 15 to 24 account for over half of new HIV infections worldwide, despite unprecedented awareness of HIV and AIDS and its causes. Children orphaned or affected by AIDS are denied their basic right to social protection, even as their numbers swell to the tens of millions in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
- Although transmission of HIV from mother to child has been virtually wiped out in developed countries, less than 10 percent of pregnant women in the developing world are offered services to preventthe spread of HIV to their children. The result is that some 1,500 children are newly infected with HIV every day. While this gross inequality could be mitigatedif children had access to the same lifeprolonging HIV medicines as adults, in fact close to 90 percent of children donot have access to the HIV treatment they need.
- Young people at risk of HIV through sex or injecting drug use often lack access to basic information and services to prevent HIV, as well as independent access to HIV testing, counseling, condoms, and treatment. In schools and youth programs, frank and complete information about sexual and reproductive health is often censored in favor of messages that emphasize abstinence and sexualmorality. Young people who inject drugs often face legal restrictions on the use ofsterile syringes and orally administered methadone substitution therapy to prevent HIV.
- Orphans and children living in AIDSaffected families, who number in the tens of millions in sub-Saharan Africa alone, routinely face abuse, exploitation, discrimination, and property-grabbing by relatives, rather than receiving the care and protection they deserve. AIDS-affected children drop out of school at higher rates than their peers, representing a form of systemic discrimination in access to education. As AIDS wipes out a generation of parents, the care of orphans and vulnerable children is typically left to aging grandmothers whose work is notcounted, valued, or remunerated. Like the children in their care, these elderly people are denied their right to protection in countries that lack systems of child welfare or social security.