Tanzanian children with HIV to wear red ribbon on uniforms
Schoolchildren in Tanzania are being made to wear a red ribbon on their uniforms to show that they are HIV positive.
The headmaster of one of the schools, in the northwest district of Kibaha, said the unusual move was done at the parents' request to ensure ill pupils were not made to undertake tasks that might affect their health.
But campaigners say that revealing another person's HIV status is illegal under Tanzanian law and punishable by up to three years imprisonment.
Around five per cent of the population – some 1.4m people – have HIV in Tanzania. While the rate is no higher than in most East African countries, the infection rate for women is higher than for men and it is often transmitted to children.
Mohammed Lukema, head of Kibaha Primary School, said parents had asked for their children to wear red ribbons if they were infected so they could be excused from strenuous duties at the rural school, such as sweeping the compound and fetching and carrying water.
He insisted that they were not judged as a result. "Our school has pupils who are suffering from various diseases," he told the BBC
"The school and the society at large have decided to label pupils' uniforms."
When contacted by The Daily Telegraph for comment after the row broke, he declined to comment, saying it was a matter for the district's Director of Education.
Msafiri Thomas was leading an HIV/Aids community awareness scheme in the area when the practice of putting ribbon on pupils emerged in a focus group.
"It was raised by parents, teachers and school leavers and seems to have been happening for some time," he told The Daily Telegraph. "The general feeling was that it wasn't a good thing because life is hard enough for students living with HIV without making life harder for them at school.
"Students wearing these ribbons are sometimes shunned by other pupils who don't want to share or be near them because they fear they will be infected. There must be another well to help these children." Rebecca Mshumbusi, chairperson of the Kibaha Association of People Living with HIV/Aids, said that forcing children to reveal their status was not only unethical but illegal.
In 2008, a law was passed which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone with HIV or Aids, or to reveal another's status.
By Aislinn Laing, Johannesburg