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UNICEF/HQ01-0071/Mia BrandtUNICEF wary of post-quake international adoptions
Children's Agency Also Begins Training Trauma Counsellors Today

From the field: More press releases and information updated 20 June 2001

9 February 2001: The United Nations Children's Fund cautioned today that international adoptions should serve only as a last resort for children orphaned by the killer earthquake in Gujarat, saying that unscrupulous child traffickers may try to pass themselves off as legitimate agents of good.

Noting a flurry of news reports stating that children in Gujarat may be the subject of international adoption efforts, the chief of UNICEF in India said alternatives such as the extended family and friends in the community must be given first priority.

"Well-meaning people around the world might think international adoption is in the best interests of a child who has lost his or her parents," said Maria Calivis, the UNICEF Representative in India. "But adoption within the extended family or community is recognized as the first and best option both by Indian and international law." Calivis, who was in the quake zone earlier this week, added that adoption elsewhere within India was the next best alternative. She emphasized UNICEF does not support the institutionalization of children.

UNICEF said reliable figures on the number of children who lost parents during the recent earthquake are not yet available. At least one non-governmental relief group has estimated the number of earthquake orphans at 7,000 to 8,000, but UNICEF said that figure is probably high.

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In the aftermath of the deadly cyclone in the Indian state of Orissa in October 1999, a massive search identified some 1,500 unaccompanied children. The death toll in that disaster, which left some 30,000 people dead, is comparable to current estimates for the Gujarat earthquake.

Calivis said Indian law has exceptionally strong provisions for the care and protection of children who have lost their parents. But she noted that extended families and friends within the community must act as the first defense against unscrupulous child traffickers who often attempt to exploit unaccompanied children for profit.

UNICEF pointed out that the tradition of extended family and community is strong in India, and particularly so in Gujarat. National and state authorities, working with UNICEF and a number of local organizations, are seeking to support that tradition as part of an overall quake relief strategy for children, UNICEF said.

"UNICEF believes in adoption by caring families in appropriate circumstances and in keeping with national and international law," Calivis said. "But hasty adoption efforts in the midst of an emergency - any emergency - are not acceptable."

Training of Trauma Counsellors Begins Today

UNICEF/HQ01-0073/Mia Brandt

Ahmedabad: UNICEF experts in child psychology conducted the first in a series of training sessions that will empower teachers and health workers how to identify quake-related trauma in children and offer basic counselling.

Representatives of some 40 NGOs took part in the first training session. They were trained to become trainers themselves, in turn to reach into the worst-hit areas to teach local adults how to recognize and address trauma in children.

"This is only a first step, but it's a very important first step," said Dr. Y.N. Mathur, the head of UNICEF's state office in Gujarat. "Empowering adults to help the children around them is going to speed everybody's recovery."

Mathur said that within days the trauma trainings would cascade into even remote villages, providing teachers and health workers with an invaluable new skill. UNICEF said plans were moving forward quickly for the establishment of 300 temporary health centres and 350 "child friendly spaces" in Kutch and other hard-hit districts. The child-friendly spaces - with tents and school supplies provided by UNICEF - will serve both as makeshift classrooms and as service centres for trauma counselling and government outreach. The projects are being led by state government with the support of UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA, UNIFEM, ILO and dozens of NGOs.

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There are many ways you can support these important relief efforts. For links to online appeals by UNICEF National Committees, visit our appeals page. You can also make a general contribution through the Support UNICEF site.

Read the 5 February Press Release, the 29 January Emergency Update and Press Release or view the UNICEF public service announcement on India earthquake relief efforts. Click to view

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For further information, please contact:

Hans Olsen, UNICEF Media, Geneva
(41-22) 909-5517

Liza Barrie, UNICEF Media, New York
(212) 326-7593

UNICEF continues its work in Gujarat Thurs., 24 January 2002
In India, young earthquake survivors return to school Thurs,14 June 2001
Immunizations begin in quake zone
Tues, 13 February 2001
UNICEF wary of post-quake international adoptions Fri, 9 February 2001
Comments by Maria Calvis, UNICEF, from Gujarat Tuesday, 6 February 2001
Half of all schools damaged or destroyed in India quake zone Mon, 5 February 2001
Emergency Update, Monday, 29 January 2001
UNICEF delivers drugs to quake area, assesses impact on children Mon, 29 Jan. 2001
On the ground in India, UNICEF responds to quake Sat, 27 January 2001