Mon, 07 Mar 2005

Children in Aceh's camps prone to illegal adoption

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Despite the government ban, out-of-court adoptions of children living in refugee camps across tsunami-stricken Aceh remain a cause for concern and could actually be child smuggling, a children's commission says.

Most recently a six-year-old boy Faisal and his four-year-old sister, Ida, were taken by a woman who identified herself as the children's aunt from their camp in Lhok Nga, Leupung subdistrict in Banda Aceh.

"The woman has disappeared along with the children. We can't trace her since she did not leave any identity documents," said Dina Kania of the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas PA) as quoted by Antara on Sunday.

The woman said she would take the children to their mother. The tsunami that devastated Aceh on Dec. 26 last year had separated the children from their parents.

Dina said the incident became clear after a man who said he was the biological father of the two children arrived in the camp to take them several days later.

Similar such cases had been reported in several other refugee camps across Banda Aceh, Dina said.

She said people who wished to adopt orphaned children must register with camp coordinators to allow the latter to monitor the whereabouts of the children.

"Many of the children are being taken care of by older children who have also lost their parents in the disaster. They are also facing a lack of food," Dina said.

Baby food was a luxury in the province, another commission member, Nurbani, said.

She said many babies living in refugee camps were fed instant noodles or other adult foods due to a lack of milk and porridge.

Nurbani, who oversees the Kede Meriah refugee camp in Aceh Besar, said the lack of nutrition among children needed urgent addressing.

"One scrambled egg must be divided to feed between five and eight children," she said.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and the House of Representatives have promised to donate nourished food to the children, but Nurani said the pledge had not materialized.

"They promised to provide 400 grams of rice for each person but it was only empty talk. Most of the people living in the camps only eat instant noodles, including the children," Nurbani said.

Volunteers who help refugees in Lhok Nga and Sigli also found children who had eaten instant noodles regularly for quite a long time due to the absence of other foods.

The volunteers urged the government to take immediate measures, otherwise the children would suffer malnutrition, they said.