A Rights Based Approach to HIV and AIDS

What is the problem?

‘The HIV/AIDS epidemic has drastically changed the world in which children live.

Millions of children have been infected and have died and many more are gravely affected as HIV spreads through their families and communities. The epidemic impacts on the daily life of younger children, and increases the victimization and marginalization of children, especially those living in particularly difficult circumstances. HIV/AIDS is not a problem of some countries but of the entire world.’

Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003), General Comment No. 3: HIV/AIDS and the rights of the child.


Human rights standards

Although the CRC does not specifically mention HIV and AIDS, there are a number of relevant provisions in the treaty. Article 24 addresses the right to health, while article 2 deals with the right to non-discrimination. This latter right is relevant in respect of sex education programmes which do not acknowledge the needs of, for example, LGBT adolescents who may be vulnerable to HIV transmission.

However, numerous other rights are also highly pertinent. The right to life, survival and development (art. 6) and the right to have his/her views respected (art. 12) should guide policy and programmes that deal with prevention, treatment, care and support.

Moreover, the Committee on the Rights of the Child highlights a number of other relevant provisions: the right to access information and material aimed at the promotion of their social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health (art. 17); the right to preventive health care, sex education and family planning education and services (art. 24 (f)); the right to an appropriate standard of living (art. 27); the right to privacy (art. 16); the right not to be separated from parents (art. 9); the right to be protected from violence (art. 19); the right to special protection and assistance by the State (art. 20); the rights of children with disabilities (art. 23); the right to health (art. 24); the right to social security, including social insurance (art. 26); the right to education and leisure (arts. 28 and 31); the right to be protected from economic and sexual exploitation and abuse, and from illicit use of narcotic drugs (arts. 32, 33, 34 and 36); the right to be protected from abduction, sale and trafficking as well as torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (arts. 35 and 37); and the right to physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration (art. 39). (Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 3: HIV/AIDS and the rights of the child)

What can be done?

The need for human-rights based approaches has been particularly marked in HIV and AIDS policy and programming. It was recognised relatively early on in the history of the disease that its nature  rendered paternalistic, or top-down, approaches to health care particularly redundant, and measures that did not respect or consider the importance of access to services, non-discrimination, empowerment, accountability and participation failed to stem – and in some cases facilitated - outbreaks. For example, the fact that the people often held responsible for the disease were, and still are, largely marginalised communities - gay men, homeless people, drug users, ethnic minorities and sex workers – highlighted the importance of combating stigma and discrimination. A rights-based approach recognises that HIV and AIDS is not simply a medical problem and in reality involves a much wider range of issues.



Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003), General Comment No. 3: HIV/AIDS and the rights of the child:

United Nations (OHCHR, WHO 2006) International Guidelines on HIV and AIDS and human rights:

Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (2004), Programming HIV/AIDS: a human rights approach — A tool for international development and community-based organizations responding to HIV/AIDS