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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Four years on, vulnerable children still struggling in Thailand

Orphans of the tsunami

© UNICEF Thailand/2008/Thomas
Suwaibah (left), 15, who lost her mother in the tsunami, now shares a 10-square metre unfinished concrete-block house with her father and his new family in Ranong, Thailand.

By Nattha Keenapan

RANONG, Thailand, 24 December 2008 – Four years after the tsunami swept across Thailand’s Andaman coast, normalcy has returned to most hard-hit resort areas. But away from the white sand beaches and neon lights of the tourist strips, the tsunami continues to take its toll on the lives of children orphaned by the disaster.

National estimates place the number of orphans between 1,000 and 2,000 – with the wide range resulting from a failure to register orphans immediately after the catastrophe and lack of proper coordination among agencies.

UNICEF Thailand Chief of the Child Protection Section Amanda Bissex notes that it is important to have “a centralized registration system under the responsibility of one agency. Without such a system, a large number of affected children are not registered – and the opportunity to plan for appropriate service delivery for them and provide them with follow-up support is missed.”

Ms. Bissex adds that the orphans who were not registered missed out on the provision of key support, including education grants, professional assessments of the relatives with whom they would be placed, and psychosocial support.

Child protection and monitoring

The sense of emotional distress from losing loved ones continues to affect orphans in Thailand’s six tsunami-affected provinces. While the distance of years may help to ease their sorrow, their psychological well-being and current sense of security very much depend on their current living conditions.

To ensure good case management and follow-up for vulnerable children, UNICEF has supported the establishment of Child Protection Monitoring and Response Systems in 34 sub-districts of the affected provinces. In cooperation with the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Mahidol University and local governments, the systems have surveyed the situations of more than 76,000 children so far.

© UNICEF Thailand/2008/Thomas
Pimonpan (centre), 8, is one of many tsunami orphans who is living with close relatives and receives the care and attention she needs. Her aunt, Sanit Suwanakong, who has two sons, has officially adopted Pimonpan.

The aim of the project is to better monitor children’s well-being and identify those in need of special care and support. To that end, locally based social workers follow up and coordinate with partners to ensure that children receive timely support and protection. The system is especially useful in monitoring the situation of tsunami orphans.

Need for proper placement

Government education grants and other funds provided for the care of orphans have been crucial, but at times they have also led to new problems in their lives. Some relatives looking to benefit from the monetary assistance have squabbled over who should care for the orphans, resulting in the separation of siblings.

In some cases, family members may have been more interested in the money being provided for the orphans than in actually providing them with the best home.

“My aunt withdrew all money in our bank accounts,” recalls Suwaibah, 15, referring to some 150,000 baht (about $4,300) in aid that she and her younger sister received after their mother was killed by the tsunami. “My aunt told us to sign the bank withdrawal papers so that she could pay for our school uniforms, but she took out all the money.”

Today, Suwaibah and her sister live with their father, stepmother and stepsister in a one-room, unfinished concrete-block house in Ranong’s Muang district. The five family members share a space of no more than 10 square metres.

“Monitoring of the orphans’ placements is equally important as ensuring they are placed in good homes in the first place,” Ms. Bissex explains with regard to the Child Protection Monitoring and Response Systems. “We hope that this model can be implemented across the country and applied to all children in need.”



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