Slave traffickers target 1.5m children in tsunami region
7 January 2005, HAMBURG - With UNICEF estimating that 1.5 million children have been affected by the tsunami disaster, German relief agencies have expressed growing fears that child traffickers have been moving into the devastated area around the Indian Ocean's coastal rim.
7 January 2005
HAMBURG - With UNICEF estimating that 1.5 million children have been affected by the tsunami disaster, German relief agencies have expressed growing fears that child traffickers have been moving into the devastated area around the Indian Ocean's coastal rim.
Children have vanished from camps in Sri Lanka, according to the Kindernothilfe relief agency in Duisburg, Germany.
"We are greatly concerned that children are being forced into service with Tamil guerrilla fighters," says Sascha Decker, spokesman for Kindernothilfe in Cologne.
Washington is also alarmed: "There are sufficient credible reports to lead us to the conclusion that a real and present threat exists and that immediate measures must be taken to prevert abuse," said US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli.
Child welfare groups such as UNICEF are concerned that child trafficking gangs - who are well-established in Indonesia - are whisking orphaned children into trafficking networks, selling them into forced labour or even sexual slavery in wealthier neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.
"I'm sure it's happening," said Birgithe Lund-Henriksen, child protection chief in UNICEF's Indonesia office. "It's a perfect opportunity for these guys to move in."
Evidence of child abuse also comes from relief camps in Sri Lanka.
The National Childcare Protection Authority says it has evidence of children illegally being put up for adoption in Sri Lanka.
"Any time there are so many people in such crowded conditions and no one is sure which children belong to whom, there are some who take advantage of the situation to engage in sexual abuse," says UNICEF Germany spokesman Christian Schneider.
In Indonesia, the government has placed a ban on all children under age 16 leaving the hard-hit province of Aceh in northern Sumatra.
Fuelling the suspicions, many Indonesians have received mobile phone text messages this week inviting them to adopt orphans from Aceh.
Aceh is not far from the port city of Medan and nearby island of Batam, which are well-known transit points for gangs shipping children and teenagers out of Indonesia.
In India, The Hindustan Times reports that children being claimed as adoptees in order for the parents to cash in government adoption subsidies - only to abandon the children once the money has been received.
Meanwhile, efforts are underway to reopen schools in the disaster regions.
"In view of the trauma these children have gone through," says Schneider, "it is important that they get back into familiar classroom surroundings and a regimented daily routine."
The concerns about the trafficking of children came as world leaders toured countries around the Indian Ocean, expressing their shock at the "utter destruction" wrought by Asia's killer tsunami and vowing to provide prompt aid to ease the suffering of the disaster's victims.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan set the tone during a visit to Indonesia's Aceh province, which took the full brunt of the 26 December earthquake and tsunami and suffered some of the worst casualties and property damage.
"As we travelled along the western coast (of Sumatra island), I have to admit I have never seen such utter destruction mile after mile, and you wonder where are the people, what happened to them," Annan told journalists.
Meanwhile, local media reported that outbreaks of various diseases have occurred in the dozens of makeshift refugee camps that have sprung up in the battered province. Some refugees were showing symptoms of cholera or malaria, while diarrhea cases were also a growing problem, the Suara Pembaruan newspaper reported.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw visited some of the worst-affected areas of southern Thailand, including the resort island of Phuket, where thousands of European tourists were among the dead, missing and injured.
Thousands more Europeans, particularly Swedes and other Scandinavians, were killed or missing and presumed to have perished while on holiday in southern Thailand.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Sri Lanka on Friday to view firsthand the damage caused by the tsunami, which killed at least 30,615 people and left thousands missing in coastal areas of the country.
South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae-Chan also arrived and was due to visit tsunami-affected areas in the southern Hambantota district on Saturday.
In addition, World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Lee Jong-Wook was due in the country Friday, while German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer will visit over the weekend.
At the same time, the international relief effort continued to gain momentum.
The United Nations said on Thursday it was assuming leadership of a US-led "core group" of countries guiding the massive operation to provide relief to Indian Ocean tsunami survivors.
Jan Egeland, the UN emergency humanitarian coordinator, said that the core group of the United States, Japan, India and Australia was phasing out and joining the UN relief operation.
That group was organised by US Secretary of State Colin Powell and announced by US President George W. Bush on 29 December, three days after an undersea earthquake off the coast of Sumatra set off a tsunami that struck 12 countries.
"We will still keep a close contact with the core group because it was giving us the biggest assistance and has some of the biggest assets on the ground," Egeland said.
He said that US military facilities and equipment in Asia are providing crucial logistics and transport for the relief activities. The US and Britain provided C-17 cargo planes, the world's largest aircraft, to carry tons of supplies to victims in many countries, particularly the Aceh and Sumatra provinces of Indonesia, the worst hit by the tsunami.
The core group had been criticised as a US attempt to sideline the UN in responding to the immediate humanitarian demands in Asia. US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday in Jakarta that the core group served its purposes and was folding into the United Nations effort.
The US and other core group participants had banded together to "quickly help try to save lives in the region", Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said later in Washington. He defended the US response through the temporary core group, which was intended to capitalize on close relations among the member governments.
Since the earthquake, dozens of governments and banks have together pledged close to USD 4 billion (USD3.04 billion).
Some of the pledges, including from Japan with 500 million dollars, were in cash, which the UN said is most needed to quickly deliver supplies and services using resources already available in the region.
Egeland said that the UN was trying to trace and follow up the pledges to ensure fulfilment of promises.
Australia leads all countries with a pledge of USD 750 million, followed by Germany with 665 million, Japan with 500 million, the United States with 350 million, Norway 182 million, Britain 96 million, Italy 93 million, Canada 80 million, Sweden 75 million, Spain 66 million and China 60 million.
Subject: German news