Sri Lankan boy excluded from school over false HIV rumour

  • Published
Boy at the centre of the row
Image caption,
It's unclear where the six-year-old can now go to school

Education officials in Sri Lanka have excluded a boy from school after false rumours that he had HIV.

The six-year-old has been promised another school place and his former schoolmates have been told to return to class but where he can go is unclear.

Parents at the school in the western city of Kurunegela refused to allow any of their children to study with him.

The boy's mother said they had been stigmatised since her husband's recent death was wrongly attributed to Aids.

She has also denied that she herself is HIV positive.

The move to exclude her son came after a meeting on Wednesday between officials and the parents of other pupils at the school. Health and human rights officials opposed the boy's expulsion.

Image caption,
The school has been left deserted
Image caption,
Villagers have erected a sign warning people to avoid the school

To cheers from other parents, provincial education minister Sandya Rajapaksa told the packed meeting: "We will not do an injustice to that child - we will give him a different school. And we will not do any injustice to your children so please bring them to school from tomorrow."

The boy's mother, Chandani De Soysa, told BBC Sinhala the minister had promised a school place "in two weeks".

"Now I have to wait and see whether he will fulfil his promise."

National Child Protection Authority deputy chairman Sajeeva Samaranayake said other parents had failed to keep an open mind on the boy's case.

"Whether it's the correct decision or will give a good message to the country is something we have to reconsider."

Low HIV awareness

After his case was reported by BBC Sinhala this month, the educational and human rights authorities became involved, and last week one school was ordered to take in the child.

Despite Sri Lankan authorities confirming the boy was not infected, parents in Kurunegela immediately began putting pressure on the mother to remove him, but she refused.

His class teacher, who stayed with him at school, said she felt "very sad when the child asked me why all my friends are leaving because of me, and why the police and others are here".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Sri Lanka has a low HIV prevalence but also low awareness

Sri Lanka is considered to have a very low prevalence of HIV, the virus that causes Aids.

According to UN figures, in 2014 there were 3,200 adults and 100 children living with HIV, fewer than 0.1% of the population.

But there is also concern about poor awareness of the virus and how it spreads, which leads to stigma and discrimination.

Correspondents say because the boy's case has been widely publicised in Sri Lanka it is unclear where he will now be able to continue his studies.