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Press release

How to protect children in the tsunami zone

Keeping Children Safe from Exploitation Requires Action Now, UNICEF Says

LONDON, 8 January 2005 – Measures to protect children in the Tsunami zone from exploitation, abuse, and criminal trafficking are needed immediately to prevent them from slipping between the cracks, UNICEF said today, outlining the key steps essential to protecting orphans and other vulnerable children.

“The good news is that most of the needed efforts are already underway,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy.  “But we have to move fast,” she added.  “Those who would prey upon children in this chaotic environment are already at work.” 

UNICEF said the most vulnerable of the Tsunami generation are those who have lost their parents or have been separated from their families.  While no reliable figures yet exist, estimates based on the numbers of dead and displaced suggest there may be thousands of children across the region who fall into these categories.  Surveys now underway will help identify the scope of the issue in the next week or so.

UNICEF said there are five key steps essential to keeping vulnerable children safe from exploitation in the immediate term.

  • Register all displaced children: UNICEF said that knowing which children are alone or possibly orphaned, and knowing exactly where they are, is the first critical step to protecting them.

    In India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia – the hardest-hit of all the tsunami countries – registration is underway.  In Aceh, ground zero of the human catastrophe, five child-friendly registration centers in the camps are now open, and 15 more are planned for next week.

  • Provide immediate safe care: Children identified as unaccompanied or lost must be placed in the temporary care of adults accountable for their welfare.  In displacement camps, separate child-friendly care centers for unaccompanied children may be established.  Alternately, children may be placed in community-based children’s homes until their families can be located. Such options have already been identified in each of the countries affected, though more may be needed.

  • Locate relatives: Registering children by name, address, community and birth date allows local and national authorities – working with NGOs – to trace and reunite family members pulled apart in the disaster but who survived.  It also enables authorities to find members of extended family – aunts and uncles, grandparents, or older siblings.

  • Alert police and other authorities:  UNICEF said it is essential to alert police, border patrols, teachers, health workers and others to the threat of child exploitation, and to enlist their support in protecting children.  This process of public and institutional awareness is beginning to take place in the affected countries.  In Sri Lanka, government and key partners, including UNICEF, have raised the issue in the media so that all Sri Lankans are aware of the need to look out for unaccompanied children.  In Indonesia, police and port authorities have been put on special alert.

  • Special national measures:  Concerned about the prospect of child trafficking from the tsunami zone, Indonesia put a temporary moratorium on children under 16 from Aceh traveling outside the country without a parent.  The government also put a temporary moratorium on the adoption of children from Aceh until all children can be properly identified and a process of family tracing completed.

The international standard in a crisis is to keep children as close to their family members and community as possible, UNICEF noted.  Staying with relatives in extended family units is generally a better solution than uprooting the child completely.

“Family and community provide vigilance and protection for children,” Bellamy said.  “With so many families torn apart, and so many communities completely destroyed, we have to pull together other kinds of protections for these youngsters.  All people of good will have a role to play in looking out for the best interests of this tsunami generation.”

UNICEF emphasized that child trafficking, sexual exploitation, and extreme child labour are nothing new.  But it warned that the breakdown of institutions in wake of the December 26 tsunamis left an opening for unscrupulous and criminal exploitation of the most vulnerable.  She noted that the illicit trafficking of human beings is big business, not unlike trafficking in drugs or arms, with real money at stake and powerful interests involved.

“We have to want to protect children as much as others want to exploit them,” Bellamy said.  “Based on the quick response of governments to this threat, it’s clear they want to provide that protection.  But we have to do it together.”


Coming soon: How getting schools open again protects children and helps them cope with trauma – an estimate of how many schools were destroyed and what it will take to get them open again, based on surveys now underway.

B-roll available on protective camps for children in Indonesia at http://www.newsmarket.com/unicef/

For interviews and other details, contact UNICEF press officers:

In Sri Lanka: Martin Dawes + 977 985 10 40961
In the Maldives: Binita Shah + 977 985 107 4260
In India: Corrine Woods + 91 981 86 49088
In Indonesia: John Budd + 62 811 936 437
In Bangkok: Shantha Bloemen + 66 1 906 0813
In Geneva: Damien Personnaz + 41 22 909 5716




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