BEIJING (AFP) - 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, in a case that has drawn widespread condemnation.
Beijing has pledged to ensure the boy, dubbed Kunkun in the media, gets an education, after reports that he was having trouble finding a school that would take him, the China Daily reported yesterday.
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.
Some 200 residents - including the child's own grandfather - signed a petition last week to expel him from their village in the south-western province of Sichuan, to "protect villagers' health".
The boy was left with his grandfather when both his parents quit the impoverished village to seek work, and he remains in his grandfather's care in the village for the present, the Beijing News indicated.
It was unclear yesterday whether Kunkun would still face expulsion from the village.
Reactions on social media have been quick to condemn the villagers who signed the petition.
"It's terrible that the villagers are under-educated, they should be sent to school too," said one user on Sina Weibo.
Another commentator centred 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 with abandonment crime in foreign countries."
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 United Nations said it was "deeply concerned" about the case, which has prompted a 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 UN said in a statement last Friday.
"But sadly, last week's reports demonstrate that breaching confidentiality, ignorance and fear continue to have devastating consequences for those living with HIV."