Friday, January 07, 2005

Confirmed Child Trafficking in Indonesia

Courtesy Reuters via Yahoo!News:

UNICEF Confirms Tsunami Child Trafficking Case

By George Nishiyama

JAKARTA (Reuters) - The United Nations Children's Fund confirmed a case in Indonesia of trafficking in children orphaned or separated from parents by the Indian Ocean tsunami as ravaged countries were warned to be on high alert for kidnappers.

Reports of children being taken away surfaced soon after the killer waves swamped 13 nations, killing more than 153,000 people and leaving more than a million people injured and homeless. But the UNICEF (news - web sites) report is the first confirmed case.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) also said Friday that an Indonesian aid agency had reported seven cases of child-trafficking since the Dec. 26 undersea earthquake that sent giant waves crashing ashore across Asia and East Africa.

Birgithe Lund-Henriksen, chief of the UNICEF Indonesia child protection unit, said UNICEF and Indonesian police had confirmed that a 4-year-old boy was taken out of Banda Aceh, the capital of devastated Aceh province, by a couple claiming to be his parents.

Local police were alerted after non-governmental organizations (NGOs) became suspicious when the couple took the child to a hospital in Medan, 450 km (280 miles) southeast of Banda Aceh, she said.

"NGOs grew suspicious when the couple were not consistent in their story," she said, adding they now say they are the boy's neighbors.

Lund-Henriksen said there were other reports of possible child-trafficking cases, including a sighting by an NGO worker of about 100 infants being carried in a speed boat in the middle of the night in Aceh province.

"We're absolutely concerned about trafficking. This is something that existed prior to the
earthquake tsunami. And with syndicates in place, it's clear they will take advantage of the chaos that's going on now," she said.

Lund-Henriksen said Medan had long been a departure point for smuggling children out of Indonesia for illegal adoption, forced labor, or work in the sex industry.


The International Organization for Migration (IOM) warned affected countries to be on high alert against trafficking of orphans or other vulnerable people, adding that it already had child-trafficking experts working in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand as part of its emergency response to the tsunami.

"To date, actual confirmed cases of human trafficking remain minimal. But we are boosting our counter-trafficking operations and working with governments," IOM spokeswoman Niurka Pinheiro told a news briefing.

Some 250,000 people are trafficked in, out and through the South East Asia region each year, according to IOM estimates. Many victims are exploited sexually or used for domestic labor.

"An NGO has reported seven trafficking cases in Indonesia," Richard Danziger, head of IOM's counter-trafficking unit, told Reuters. He declined to name the agency.

"Something like (the tsunami) can worsen an ongoing problem. We have not actually identified any cases ourselves. But you can't say it hasn't happened just because you haven't seen it," he added.

UNICEF has set up a children's center in Aceh province, and plans to set up 20 places to accommodate unaccompanied children and to prevent them from being taken away.
Countries hit by the tsunami, including Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and some outside the region such as the United States, have banned adoption of children orphaned by the disaster in a bid to prevent smugglers from taking advantage of the situation.

Indonesian Social Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab told Reuters this week: "The government has decided that orphans should stay in Aceh to maintain their cultural heritage."

He said the process of counting orphans was under way.