Indonesia on alert to protect children
9 January 2005
Indonesia said today it is monitoring its international borders to prevent young victims of the tsunami disaster from being smuggled out of the country by child traffickers, and will set up special centres within refugee camps to care for children and reunite them with their families if possible.
The government also will establish, together with UNICEF (UN Children's Fund) centres to care for traumatised women, Minister of Women's Empowerment Meutia Hatta said.
In total, 20 centres will be set up in hard-hit Aceh province, staffed by about 380 specially trained volunteers, Meutia said.
There have been sporadic reports of attempted child trafficking in Indonesia since the December 26 quake-tsunami disaster, but police say there have been no confirmed cases.
Medan, the main city on Sumatra island, has a reputation as a base for criminal gangs that sell children into servitude or for sexual exploitation.
Rahmat Sentika, deputy for child welfare at Meutia's ministry, said Saturday his department has not yet received any official report on trafficking of Acehnese children, but they are moving to ensure it doesn't happen.
"Our department, in cooperation with police, is monitoring all strategic places and cities around the borders," he said.
Indonesia recently also placed restrictions on children under the age of 16 leaving the country in an effort to avert child trafficking.
UNICEF spokesman John Budd, based in Jakarta, said the group had received two reports of attempted child trafficking which it considered reliable but had not confirmed itself.
However, in one of the cases, police said they thought the adults involved were well-intentioned and had not committed any crime. Police said they had not received any reports about the second case.
Budd said the childcare centres in refugee camps would look after children's health, provide trauma counselling and try to reunite them with their families.
"If a child is without parents and family, they are incredibly vulnerable," Budd said.
Women and children who have lost family members in the disaster will be cared for at the centres.
"The volunteers' duty is to restore the self-confidence of woman and children," Meutia said. "There are plenty of women feeling empty and who keep crying because they lost their families."
Authorities believe up to 30,000 children are among the victims of the disaster. Indonesia raised its official death toll today to 104,055.
Rahmat estimated that between 500 and 1,000 Acehnese children have been transferred to Jakarta, mostly by their relatives. At least 18 have also died at hospitals in the Indonesian capital.