KUALA LUMPUR, 30 Nov 2009: The government must stop being in denial about children infected with HIV/AIDS, a child rights’ activist and advocate said today.
Hartini“The government should stop saying that there’s no problem, no child prostitution, no children taking drugs, no children with HIV. There are children having sex and taking drugs, that’s the reality,” Dr Hartini Zainudin, general manager of Nur Salam, a safe house for street children in Chow Kit, said.
“The government should stop putting money just in campaigns, and provide funds so that we can build safe houses and have rehabilitation programmes for children. They should ask the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) what is needed. Better still, they should ask the children what is needed,” she added.
Hartini noted that there was a lack of services and programmes available for children with HIV/AIDS.
“We have a centre now for teenagers [in addition to a centre for children under 12]. Some who come to the centre are on drugs or have HIV/AIDS. If you put them in drug rehabilitation, what happens after that? You can’t put them back on the streets. Where do they go?” said Hartini.
Hartini was speaking to the press at a media sensitisation workshop organised by the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC), which included a walkabout in the Chow Kit area, in conjunction with World AIDS Day.
The workshop was held to educate the media on the role they could play in shaping the public’s perceptions and attitudes to people living with HIV/AIDS.
Kevin Baker, who works with PT Foundation, a MAC partner organisation, said that in a recent government raid in the area, 34 out of the 300 people arrested were under 18.
“It is difficult to have programmes for these children as it is often difficult for us to obtain parental consent,” said Baker. “There is a very big population of children at risk of HIV/AIDS without there being any programmes in place to deal with it.”
Kevin Baker on a walkabout with workshop attendees
Hartini said it wasn’t just HIV/AIDS that she was worried about but other diseases as well. “I have a baby [at the shelter] with gonorrhea,” she said.
Hartini said that marginalised groups were not provided with sufficient education and facilities to protect themselves and their children and that a lot more had to be done.
She said the problem wasn’t just an issue for NGOs or the Welfare Department or the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry to tackle alone.
“It’s all the other ministries — the Home Ministry, the Health Ministry. The welfare department and women’s ministry need to get their mandate from these other big ministries to implement programmes.”
Role of the media
Writer and journalist Dina Zaman said the media needed to understand the issue from a macro and micro perspective.
Dina Zaman “For example, on a macro level, the incidence of HIV/AIDS might be decreasing. However, on a micro level, in Malaysia, the number of HIV-positive housewives has doubled in the last few years.”
Martin Choo from the Centre of Excellence for Research in AIDS said that the media played a big role in shaping the meaning that the public gives to HIV/AIDS.
“People living with HIV/AIDS should not be described as victims or sufferers,” he said, citing these terms as inappropriate and misleading.
“We don’t call someone with cancer a cancer victim unless they are dead or have succumbed to the disease. So why should we treat people living with HIV/AIDS any differently?” Choo asked.
Choo explained that as HIV/AIDS was a treatable condition, many people who live with it were well and healthy.
A two-year study of the major English and Malay language newspapers by Choo and MAC president Professor Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman revealed that 11.7% of articles on HIV/AIDS had used inappropriate terminology.
The study also found that this was more prevalent in the Malay-language newspapers as compared to the English-language ones.
“Inappropriate reporting victimises those in need of support,” said Choo. “It creates stigma among society and it could prevent those with HIV/AIDS from actually seeking help.”