By Benjamin Haas, AFP
BEIJING–China’s health ministry has promised to provide medical care and a living allowance for an eight-year-old HIV-positive boy targeted by villagers for expulsion, state media reported Monday, in a case that has drawn widespread condemnation. Some 200 residents �X including the child’s own grandfather �X signed a petition last week to expel him from their village in the southwestern province of Sichuan to ��protect villagers’ health,�� sparking anger online at perceived prejudice and ignorance in the countryside.
Beijing has now pledged to ensure the boy, dubbed Kunkun in the media, gets an education after reports he was having trouble finding a school that would take him, the China Daily said. The health ministry has also pledged to conduct spot checks around China to uncover any other violations of anti-discrimination policies, the state-run paper reported.
The provincial Communist Party committee is investigating reports of the petition to expel the boy, the Global Times newspaper, with close ties to the party, quoted an unnamed propaganda official as saying.
The boy was left with his grandfather when both his parents quit the impoverished village to seek work and remains in his grandfather’s care in the village for the present, the Beijing News indicated. It was unclear on Monday whether Kunkun would still face expulsion from the village. Reactions on social media have been swift to condemn the villagers who signed the petition.
��It’s terrible that the villagers are undereducated, they should be sent to school too,�� said one user on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service.
Another commentator centered the blame on Kunkun’s parents. ��It’s strange that no one condemns the boy’s parents who are so irresponsible and can be charged of abandonment crime in foreign countries,�� the user wrote. The United Nations said it was ��deeply concerned�� about the case, which has prompted huge debate in China and highlighted the stigma attached to the virus in a country where sufferers face widespread discrimination. ��Stigma and discrimination are our biggest enemies in the fight to end HIV,�� the U.N. said in a statement Friday. ��But sadly, this week’s reports demonstrate that breaching confidentiality, ignorance and fear continue to have devastating consequences for those living with HIV.�� The child’s grandfather and guardian, Luo Wenhui, told the Beijing News on Saturday that he had signed the petition to remove Kunkun because he ��hoped that it would make things better,�� as he would receive better care elsewhere. Luo, who is aged over 60, told the paper that he ��did not have long to live�� and that the petition was suggested by a local journalist as a way of drawing attention to his grandson’s plight. ��We are getting too old, and he is getting more naughty … we don’t have the ability to look after him,�� Luo said. ��If he didn’t live better outside the village, he could come back.�� The Global Times said the boy’s mother left the family in 2006, while his father ��lost contact�� after Kunkun’s condition was diagnosed. The boy was reportedly referred to as a ��time bomb�� by villagers worried about being infected and local children shunned him. Reports said Kunkun was born HIV-positive through transmission from his mother. Kunkun told the Beijing News that he could not remember what his parents looked like, adding: ��Other children don’t play with me.��