According to the medical reports, all 36 children of school age from Yiliang leprosy village in Yunnan, China, were healthy. However, they were refused a place at their local Primary School. Some of the parents of existing students were against their enrolment because the children’s parents or grandparents were once affected by leprosy. An anonymous teacher declared that the school had explained to these parents repeatedly that these children are healthy and would in no way carry the disease, but the parents were not convinced.
Villager Mr Hu said that although he was healthy, his life had been ruined simply because his father had been affected by leprosy. Despised by others since he was born, he could not be admitted to school and remained illiterate. Among his four children, two have passed their school age and have also never received any education. The other two have reached school age. Mr Hu claimed that he would fight for their right to education whatever it took. "We are all normal people. Why can’t we go to the local primary school?"
So some parents and children from the leprosy village protested, holding a flag reading "I want to go to school" and appealing to the local government for help, requesting protection of the children’s right to an education. The government initially decided to establish a school especially for these children. But such a school only suggests that the children are still discriminated against and cannot integrate into society, besides being a waste of resources when the children are no different to those already attending school!
HANDA Yunnan staff posted this news online and on social media and raised a lot of public and media attention. The story even made it to CCTV news channel. The hope was to raise the attention of government and education authorities to support the entitlement to education of children in this village and to increase public understanding of leprosy to reduce fear and discrimination.
As a result of this advocacy by HANDA and people affected by leprosy, 36 children were allowed to enrol in their local school for the first time. In southern China where leprosy stigma is still very strong this was a huge achievement. However, enrolment was only the first step and these children continue to face stigma, discrimination and exclusion within the school. HANDA, people affected by leprosy and others continue to undertake awareness raising events to combat and dispel stigma and advocate for the full inclusion of these children and others like them across China who continue to struggle to access mainstream schools.