16 May 2016

On April 28, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka ruled that children living or affected by HIV have the full right to education and cannot be discriminated against. The ruling was based on the country’s constitutional directive of universal access to education for children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old.

A couple of months previous, a fundamental rights violation petition was filed for Ms De Sovsa, a mother from a rural community in western Sri Lanka. Her five-year-old son was denied admission to school because a rumour circulated that his father had died of AIDS-related causes and he was believed to be HIV-positive. Although his mother agreed to him taking an HIV test that confirmed he was HIV-negative, the boy was still denied enrolment.

The Supreme Court’s decision said that the right to education of children living with or affected by HIV must be upheld.  It also reaffirmed the obligation for the government to protect, promote, and respect the human rights of people living with HIV, including the right to education. The Supreme Court also went a step further, reminding the state of its obligation to take necessary measures to protect, promote, and respect the human rights of people living with HIV.

This decision sets a precedent for future cases in Sri Lanka challenging HIV discrimination experienced in settings other than education. Indeed, this is the first such ruling in South Asia, while Sindh Province in Pakistan has a comprehensive HIV law but no similar protection exists across the country and India’s courts have ruled to recognise the right to non-discrimination in several specific contexts, including education, but no national HIV law has yet been adopted.

UNAIDS congratulated Sri Lanka 'on this historic step forward and urges countries in the region to introduce comprehensive laws protecting people affective by HIV against direct and indirect discrimination in all settings'.


See the full decision, here.

See UK Reuters’ article “U.N. hails landmark ruling by Sri Lanka’s top court to outlaw HIV discrimination”, here.

See UNAIDS statement, here