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January 7, 2005

Tsunami Impact: What's happening to the 'tsunami orphans'?

Topics: Southeast Asia Earthquake and Tsunami

Indonesian officials have banned adoption of children orphaned by the tsunami mostly because of fears related to child trafficking rings snatching refugees. UNICEF estimates that as many as 1.2 million children are victims of child trafficking each and every year. The demand for trafficked children is based upon cheap labour or for sexual exploitation. In many cases children and their families are often unaware of the dangers of trafficking, believing that better employment and lives lie in other countries, and without knowing their true destiny - happily send their children away to a life of misery and abuse.

According to UNICEF, girls as young as 13 (mainly from Asia and Eastern Europe) are trafficked as "mail-order brides."  In most cases these girls and women are powerless and isolated and at great risk of violence. Perhaps one good thing that can result from the tsunami tragedy is to finally attract world attention to the crime of child trafficking and have the world community take collective action to stop it and make the consequences so severe that those consequences far exceed the financial benefits of abusing these children.

Now at least one country is taking an action against this abuse, but it isn't enough:

Christian Science Monitor Jan 7 COLOMBO, SRI LANKA
Until further notice, Sri Lanka has banned the adoption of children orphaned by the tsunami.
Indonesian officials have also ordered police to stop children from the Aceh provinces from leaving the country. Both moves are in response to unconfirmed reports of child trafficking rings snatching refugees.

While adoption agencies in the US and Europe are getting many calls from sympathetic families, UNICEF officials here in Sri Lanka say that orphans in these extreme cases are, in general, better off being raised by relatives or members of the local community. This is especially true, they say, for children above age 3 or 4 who are cognizant of the disaster that took their parents.

Sri Lankan officials say an estimated several hundred to 1,000 children were orphaned by the tsunami, and Thursday the UN and the Sri Lankan Child Protection Authority proposed an unusual "quick fostering" of orphans - a rapid placement with family or extended family members here.

"We are concerned with the movement of children as commodities, and so we do not support systems that allow orphans to be essentially sold," says Martin Dawes, a South Asian expert with UNICEF. "And we don't want parents that bypass the legal process, pay top dollar ... where there is no accountability by the parent or agent."

Experts agree that significant numbers of cases exist of young children placed with loving parents in foreign lands. They recommend that prospective parents recognize the responsibilities, engage in serious self-examination, use or employ only reputable agencies, and be willing to go the extra mile in a legal process.

Yet too often in a globalizing world where greater numbers have greater wealth, this is not the case. Some adults write checks for kids too quickly. They use shadowy agencies that operate only with cellphones, and fail to prepare their clients for parenting orphans. Even before the tsunami, people posing as adoptive parents took possession of orphans in order to resell them, or to keep them as household labor. "We are especially worried about this problem in Indonesia," says Mr. Dawes.

The formal legal process to adopt in Sri Lanka takes three to four years. Finding tsunami orphans here is a complex process; those not claimed by family are still being accounted for day to day in hundreds of refugee camps. One problem that predates the tsunami, local officials here say, are parents, often single, who "drop off" their kids at orphanages for anywhere from five months to five years.   

Read more about human trafficking..

Posted by Hyscience at January 7, 2005 10:38 AM



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