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16 'AIDS' Orphans Receive Aid in Beijing

They wear everyday clothes. They become excited at the sight of their idol Zhao Wei. They do everything other youngsters do.

But they are special. All 16 of these children from East China's Anhui Province and Southwest China's Yunnan Province have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

Yesterday, the children from three ethnic groups shared their sentiments and wishes with dozens of representatives from State agencies, non-governmental organizations and international societies who gathered in Beijing to lend their help.

The youngsters are also expected to share the knowledge they have gained from three days of training mainly about children's rights with peers in their hometown.

"By the end of 2004, around 107,000 people in China had tested positive for HIV," Deputy Health Minister Wang Longde said yesterday. "And among those infected, about 1,300 are under 15."

By the end of 2001, about 76,000 Chinese children had lost at least one parent to AIDS, according to the latest statistics available from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

In the Asia-Pacific Region, the number was more than 1.5 million.

The stigma of the condition and discrimination still cast shadows over these children in China and prevent them from having the opportunities other children enjoy.

Han Mengjie, an official with the State Council Working Committee for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control, said yesterday: "Some residents strongly objected that schools their children attended enrol children infected with HIV, even though they allowed these vulnerable minors to live in their communities."

China has continued to take steps to address the problem.

Basketball star Yao Ming visited a group of HIV/AIDS orphans from Anhui on Sunday in Beijing, hoping to raise public awareness.

Earlier last month, the China Youth Concern Committee, a children's welfare organization, unveiled a logo and theme song and appointed Zhao Wei, a movie star much beloved by children, as special ambassador.

According to UNICEF, China is the only country in East Asia with a national policy on children affected by HIV/AIDS.

"In the anti-HIV/AIDS campaign, children are entitled to priority care and support," Vice-Chairwoman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress He Luli said yesterday at a high-level seminar for children affected by HIV/AIDS.

In provinces such as central China's Henan and Hubei, institutions have been set up to raise unwanted children with HIV although experts say it's better to support them in a family environment.

(China Daily July 20, 2005)

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