“Congratulations, it’s a boy!” The room erupts with laughter and applause. The family hug each other and start planning a party for the entire village. The father beams in the knowledge that he has the respect of society, and the mother looks on with relief that she will not be harassed. Juxtapose this with the birth of a girl child: The room is filled with sadness. The family have already started berating. The father is verbally or physically torturing his wife, and the mother with tears in her eyes is wondering about her future and the future of her child. This is the face of India; an ugly truth that is underscored by the country’s alarmingly unbalanced sex ratio.
As we know, India’s girl child is treated with disdain and apathy, even more so when she is living with HIV. I recently heard about a 17-year old girl from Karnataka, who was raped by her HIV-infected father, got pregnant as a result, and had to abort the two-month old foetus. Her pain left me shuddering.
She is not alone. I know of two young sisters who were orphaned after their parents died without proper treatment for HIV. They face significant social stigma. No one takes care of them, and they have no access to food, treatment, and care & support services. Unfortunately, there are far too many such real-life accounts of hardship and discrimination encountered by girls living with HIV in this country.
Under our Vihaan care & support programme, Alliance India is helping ensure that these girls receive the quality care & support services they need. Through December 2015, we have registered 23,760 girls living with HIV, giving them get access to a wide range of services and creating a safe space for them.
As we observe National Girl Child Day on 24th January, let us promise to treat all girls, especially those living with HIV, with respect and dignity. Let us promise to promote their health and wellbeing and safeguard their rights. Let us ensure that all girls are nurtured so they can shine just like diamonds in the sky. Only when millions of such diamonds are able to sparkle, each with their own light, will India truly shine!
The author of this post, Mona Balani, is a committed activist and serves as a Programme Officer: Care & Support at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi.
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