South African student and teacher unions have strongly slammed a state plan to introduce HIV testing for children at schools.
The plan is a part of the extension of the HIV testing scheme launched by President Jacob Zuma last April.The government believes that enabling sexually active pupils to know their HIV status could allow early access to life-saving treatment and help prevent the spread of the infection, reports the Guardian.
However, opponents of the voluntary programme say children may not be psychologically prepared to deal with a positive result or the stigma likely to follow.
The tests are expected to begin at secondary schools next month during weekends and holidays.
"We suspect we may be heading for disaster. Even parents are afraid to take HIV tests, so you can imagine a 13-year-old. Some will be afraid to say no to their teachers," Allen Thompson, deputy president of the National Teachers' Union, said.
He accused the health department of using children to make up ground in its ambition for the world's biggest HIV testing scheme.
Meanwhile defending the scheme, Fidel Hadebe, a spokesman for the health department, said it had not yet been decided how the testing would be implemented.