Akshara (name changed to maintain confidentiality) is an eight year old girl living with HIV. She lost her parents to AIDS some years back, and started living with her brother and sister in their paternal uncle’s house. Her brother, who was younger than Akshara, passed away recently from AIDS. Now, she and her sister are the sole surviving members of the family. As soon as the brother passed away, Akshara and her sister were thrown out of their relative’s house as the extended family refused to support the sisters. With neither shelter, education nor nutritional support, they were left bereft and helpless. Fortunately, the Vihaan Care and Support Center in Raipur (CGNP+) came ahead to support, and immediately they were referred to the Child Welfare Committee of Raipur and through them to a shelter home at Mana, Raipur. The Vihaan CSC continually provides counselling to these girls for treatment adherence and healthy living.
Discrimination against girls in India is a common phenomenon. It is a matter of national shame that female infanticide and feticide are still prevalent in the country. As per the figures of 2011 census, there are just 918 girls in India for 1000 boys. Scientists estimate that up to 6 million girls have been aborted in India over the past decade.
The situation is doubly difficult for girls living with HIV in India. As access to services becomes difficult, higher risk of HIV-related morbidity and mortality is experienced. Many of them have been forced to become caregivers for their sick parents or younger siblings or even the head of household when they are orphaned by the epidemic, along with their younger siblings.
Vihaan programme works closely with girls living with HIV to increase their treatment adherence, reduce stigma and discrimination against them, and improve their wellbeing. The programme has been instrumental in ensuring that 72,801 (up to the age of 18 years) children living with HIV, of which 32,156 (44%) are girls, are able to access quality care and support services. Also among all the girls registered under Vihaan, approximately 80%, are being able to access education services.
This festive season, let us together build a society wherein girl children are protected, revered and loved; a society that is truly equal. As we celebrate the festival of Dushera on 11th August, we remind ourselves that the International Girl Child Day 2016 is also being observed on the same day. As we pray to Goddess Durga to keep the demons away, let us ensure that demons of gender discrimination do not harm our Durga and Amba of future.
Mona Balani, Programme Officer: Vihaan Care & Support, is the author of this blog.
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