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Canceling HIV tests for teachers sparks debate

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-05-29 20:02

GUANGZHOU - A regulation to abolish HIV tests for teaching candidates in South China's Guangdong province has stirred debate, especially as it appeared amid a series of sexual abuse scandals in Chinese schools.

The revised health standard for teaching applicants, which was publicized by the provincial education department on Monday, no longer contains clauses banning HIV carriers and AIDS patients from holding teaching positions.

The regulation will go into effect on Sept 1, and Guangdong is expected to become the first region on the mainland to stop mandatory HIV and AIDS tests for teaching candidates.

The introduction of the new health standards have been hailed by many NGOs as the hard-won achievements of their long-term pursuit of justice for HIV carriers.

In January, after the provincial education department consulted the public over the revision, Equity and Justice Initiative (EJI), an NGO based in the coastal city of Shenzhen, Guangdong province, proposed abolishing the HIV test in the standard physical examination for teaching applicants.

"They are sending a signal to the public that we need to respect and guarantee the basic rights of social minorities," Guo Bin, director of EJI, said of the change to the regulation.

Cheng Yuan, director of Nanjing Tianxiagong ("justice for all"), an NGO that has helped HIV carriers file four lawsuits regarding employment discrimination, deemed the regulation a "landmark breakthrough" in China's AIDS prevention and control efforts.

"The education sector is open to HIV carriers, which means the 'sick ice' of discrimination against them is thawing," said Cheng.

The public, however, is divided over Guangdong's new practice, as parents have grown increasingly concerned about student safety since a series of sexual abuse cases in Chinese schools have been exposed in recent months.

Police detained a primary school teacher this week for allegedly molesting 12 female students in Jiahe County, Hunan province. A primary school headmaster and a government employee in Wanning City, Hainan province, were also detained by police on May 14 for sexually assaulting six female students.

An online survey initiated by Sina Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like microblogging service, showed that as of 4 p.m. on Wednesday, 3,266 respondents support getting rid of the HIV test, while 2,971 were against it.

"AIDS can only be transmitted through sex and blood transfusions. I don't think a teacher with HIV is a threat to my son," said Li Yan, a mother in Beijing.

But others, including students, have shown concern about the safety risks behind the new standards.

"They are hidden troubles. How can you guarantee they will never do something terrible to us?" asked Yang Wei, a female student in the eighth grade in central China's Hubei province.

"If I have a teacher with HIV, I will quit class," said Yang. "You know AIDS can not be cured."

Under China's Regulations on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment issued in 2006, the legal rights of people living with HIV/AIDS and their relatives should be protected, including the rights of marriage, employment, medical treatment and education.

Despite the regulation, HIV carriers in China still face rampant discrimination.

A recent survey by Beijing Yirenping Center, an NGO dedicated to promoting social justice and public health, suggested that 61 percent of the 729 HIV carriers it surveyed who live in urban areas could not find jobs and 20 percent rely on their families for financial support.

"In China, AIDS patients and HIV carriers are tagged as people with low morals, while teachers are considered people with high morals," said Guo Bin.

"This stereotypical judgment makes people think AIDS patients can never hold teaching posts," said Guo.

It is not easy for AIDS patients to seek legal help in China, and there have been only four court cases related to employment discrimination due to AIDS since 2010.

Xiao Qi (a pseudonym), China's first AIDS patient to receive compensation for discrimination, had his hopes of becoming a teacher reignited after hearing the news about Guangdong.

In November 2012, Xiao filed a suit against the education bureau of Jinxian County in east China's Jiangxi province, because the bureau rejected his teaching application despite the high score he received on the teacher qualification examination.

Xiao received 45,000 yuan ($7,275) in compensation from the county education bureau after a court ruling in January, but still has not been hired as a teacher.

"I never want to abandon my dream of becoming teacher," said Xiao. "I hope Guangdong's new health standards will spread across the country."

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