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You won't be discriminated against, Kalam tells children

Staff Reporter

HIV/AIDS affected children air their grievances

— Photo: V. Sudershan

BLESS US ALSO WITH COURAGE AND SMILES: President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam interacting with a group of children and representatives of UNICEF and UNAIDS on the occasion of the global launch of the Campaign on Children and HIV/AIDS at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Tuesday. — Photo: V. Sudershan .

NEW DELHI: While sitting down to lend a compassionate ear to children affected by HIV/AIDS, the country's First Citizen was so moved that he penned down a prayer poem for his visitors.

Nineteen HIV/AIDS affected children met and spoke with the President during the launch of the "Global campaign on children and HIV/AIDS' here on Tuesday.

UNICEF has launched the campaign to tackle ignorance about the disease that, in a year kills 510,000 children under 15 worldwide.

Bound by the Suraksha Bandhan, President Abdul Kalam made a solemn promise to his guests that he would ensure that they were never discriminated against and that they would be given an equal opportunity to lead their lives in dignity.

Mr. Kalam along with UNICEF Country Representative Cecilio Adorna, National AIDS Control Organisation Director S. Y. Qurashi and UNAIDS representative Denis Broun took a pledge to support the children infected/affected with HIV/AIDS and launched the campaign by signing the "Unite for Children, Unite Against HIV/AIDS" scroll that will travel with the Red Ribbon Express across the country as part of a signature campaign.

In their interaction with the President, the children — some of whom have lost both their parents to AIDS — told him about their daily struggle against discrimination by their neighbours, relatives, fellow students and even by officials at educational institutions.

"I told the President that I was being teased at school because I am HIV positive and he told me to write down the names of the people who trouble me and the address of my school. I am sure he will make things better for me," said 14-year-old Latha, a Class VI student from Tamil Nadu.

Other children from Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra narrated similar stories. They spoke of the pain of living a life riddled with stigma. "I did not tell the President about my problems," said 17-year-old Raghuvaran from Tamil Nadu.

"He is such a big man and I thought that I should tell him about my dreams instead. I told him that I want to become an Indian Administrative Services officer to serve the nation. He encouraged me and now I feel that I can achieve my goal," said Raghuvaran.

The President has asked agencies working in the field to educate the children about the fact that their problem could be contained through medicines and that they should not have to fear that they would die of the disease. "Work is in progress in India for the development of an anti-HIV vaccine,'' said Mr. Kalam.

"HIV/AIDS has made an enormous impact on children, but their voices remain hidden. Children are the missing face in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The governments and society should listen to the voices of these children for which the campaign has been launched," said Mr. Adorna.

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