NGO report damns campus health, disability discrimination
Education | Health | Law and Rights | Social Welfare
Discrimination against students with medical conditions is rife in Chinese colleges and universities despite being formally prohibited by China’s Constitution and various related laws, according to a report published by three NGOs.
A 2006 China Civic Health Condition and Education Rights Report (中国公民健康状况与受教育权2006年年度报告), compiled by the Civic Health Status and Education Rights Working Group (公民健康状况与受教育权工作组), was jointly published on April 9 by the Working Group, the Beijing Aizhixing Research Institute (北京爱知行研究所) and Beijing Yirenping Centre (北京益仁平中心).
The Working Group studied 147 laws and regulations concerning education and public health, and 639 university and college charters and provisions for student management. Its report says that many university charters bar students with medical conditions—including both communicable diseases such as Hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS and non-communicable illnesses such as cancer, asthma and heart problems. Some universities also refuse admission to people with disabilities.
National policy guidelines for higher education enrolment, issued in 2003 by the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and China Disabled Person’s Federation, allow schools to refuse admission to people with certain medical conditions. More detailed restrictions are set according to the subject studied.
“The guidelines deprive some students of the right to receive higher education instead of protecting their education rights,” the report says.
In practice, many schools set even stricter rules than the guidelines require, giving people with medical conditions less chances to receive higher education, according to Lu Jun (陆军), head of the Yirenping Centre and editor of the report.
“Many of the restrictions are unnecessary and don’t have scientific grounds,” he adds. For example, over 30 medical schools refuse to take Hepatitis B carriers.
Lu believes that discrimination has grown over recent years as tests to diagnose Hepatitis B and other diseases have become more accessible.
The national guidelines do not disqualify HIV positive people but in practice many are barred or expelled from all levels of schooling. “There are many cases nationwide, but only a few have been reported,” the report says. It notes that there is no mandatory testing for HIV, whereas this is quite common practice for Hepatitis B. Thus, the report says, “HIV carriers have a better chance to protect their education rights by concealing their medical condition.”
Many schools and departments also have strict requirement for gender, sexuality, height, eyesight, age, marital status and disability. In certain academic fields there is discrimination against left-handed people.
The Civic Health Status and Education Rights Working Group was founded in January 2006 to promote equality for people with medical conditions. It is a loosely organised network that includes lawyers, researchers and NGO activists. Its members have become involved in several discrimination cases by providing legal support, media relations, lobbying and advocacy on behalf of victims.
But the problems are not easy to solve, according to Lu. He points out that although national laws affirm equal educational opportunity for all, there is no sanction for violations, making it hard to right the wrongs.
For example, if schools dismiss students for health reasons it is very difficult to obtain any legal remedy, Lu says. Many schools are not even aware that their charters are discriminatory.
“The weapons we have are not laws and regulations, but morality,” he adds.
The report concludes by recommending that the government invite health experts to revise relevant laws, regulations and health requirements for university students. It also calls for a law to regulate expulsion from schools.
“The most ideal scenario would be to have a law on equality and an equality commission,” Lu says. “But we haven’t seen the light at the end of the tunnel yet.”
Report by Chang Tianle, April 16 2007