Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Real lives

Child centres help separated children rejoin their parents

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Indonesia/2005
Putri Mulyanis, age 7, was reunited with her family at a UNICEF-assisted centre

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, 18 January 2005 – For the first time since late December, seven-year-old Putri Mulyanis is together again with her family, having spent the intervening weeks not even knowing whether her parents and siblings were still alive.

Putri was separated from them when the tsunami wiped out her village near Banda Aceh.  She was taken in by sympathetic strangers.

Her father, Amirudin, searched relief camps for three weeks, until he received word that his daughter had been registered at a nearby UNICEF-supported children’s centre. Volunteers took him to the family who had been caring for Putri. She recognized him instantly.

UNICEF has made it a priority to register children who have been separated from their parents by the tsunami, so that whenever possible they can be reunited with surviving family members.

One of the children’s centres was set up at a major television station, around which more than 100,000 displaced people have been living. Amirudin Mulyanis and his family were staying in the area while they searched for their daughter; their reunion with Putri took place at this centre.

UNICEF has helped set up the child centres in cooperation with a local non-governmental organization, Pusaka Indonesia. Volunteers set up tents at the station, and work in shifts to help children around the clock. All of centres’ volunteers have been trained in counselling and registration of children.

 

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Indonesia/2005
Children at UNICEF-assisted relief centre

In order to facilitate more reunions, UNICEF is working to set up a more extensive system to find missing children. In order to help share information about separated children most effectively, a standard method of registering them has been agreed on by all partners, and a central database is now being set up within the Department of Social Welfare.

Sadly, a very high proportion of children lost their lives in the tsunami, both because they represent 39 per cent of the overall population of the eight hardest-hit countries and because they were physically less able to outrun the water or withstand the force of the water and/or debris. Nearly 1,000 other parents have come to the children’s centre at the TV station, hoping that they too would find their lost children. All but a very few have left disappointed. But for children like Putri, the centres have been essential for reconnecting with their families.

Action on separated children is a priority for UNICEF. “We need to be registering children very quickly and making sure that the current care arrangements that they are staying in are the most appropriate for children,” said UNICEF Child Protection Officer Amanda Melville.

At centres like the one where Putri is staying with her family, children come every morning to play. Footballs, games, crayons and colouring books have been provided by UNICEF to give children an outlet from their stress.

“It is important that we help them through structured play to come to terms with their new surroundings and rebuild their faith in the future,” said Ms. Melville.

 

 


 

 

Video

18 January 2005: Steve Nettleton reports from a relief centre in Indonesia where children and their families are being reunited after the tsunami disaster

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