World AIDS Day
An Indian couple walks past a sand sculpture on the eve of World AIDS DayGetty

Parents of the Sambodi Primary School northeast of Colombo have stopped their children from attending the school after false rumours spread that a new six-year-old pupil was HIV-positive. The parents also protested outside the school after the little boy turned up for his first day.

Confirming the incident, Saman Wijesekera, the regional education director said: "Parents don't want their children to be in the same school with this six-year-old boy." Despite a national HIV/Aids awareness programme in the country, there is still stigma and discrimination against those who have the disease.

The school's headmaster agreed to admit the boy only after intervention by the authorities. A series of schools rejected her application based on rumours that her husband had died from Aids last year. He had actually died of tuberculosis and kidney failure, the mother told AFP by telephone.

"Only after I complained to the child protection agency did they intervene and got him into this school," the mother said. But despite this, she now faces the hurdle of the parents of the other schoolchildren in the school.

The mother who is a casual labourer said she has not been able to secure any work in the village after the false rumours started spreading and the media coverage of the ostracism of her child followed. Wijesekera told AFP that the school will hold a meeting with parents, and health and legal experts on 2 March to discuss the boy's admission.

Sri Lanka has very few cases of HIV positive people. At the end of 2014, it had only 2,073 who were HIV positive, with 29 of them below the age of 14.