Mon, 07 Mar 2005

Tsunami child escapes bondage

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan

Eight-year-old tsunami survivor, Rahmat Hidayat, now feels safe, surrounded by familiar faces of people who care about him in a shelter for displaced persons in Medan.

The boy says he was abducted in Banda Aceh by a man he didn't know who brought him to Batam to work as a beggar for more than a month. There, he was given two meals a day and pocket money, depending on the earnings he made each day.

"If got him Rp 50,000 (US$5.50) a day, he'd give me Rp 1,000. But if I got nothing, I wouldn't be given anything, but a beating," Rahmat told The Jakarta Post at the Aceh Sepakat shelter.

He recalled there were around 30 young children who had been abducted along with him. Most of them were from Batam and Medan, while he was the only one from Aceh.

Rahmat said the children were forced to get at least Rp 50,000 a day. For those who failed, physical abuse awaited them, such as being kicked or not given meals.

Rahmat, who was taken to Batam on an airplane, said he did not recognize his kidnaper or recall his name. He could not remember when he was brought to Batam or the place where he and the other children were confined. As far as he remembered, he and the others stayed in a house in the Batam city center which was near the airport.

Asked whether he had any desire to escape, Rahmat said he himself was too afraid to run away.

He was eventually released by the abductors because they deemed he was no longer useful in collecting money, returning him to Medan by ship.

Upon his arrival in Belawan, a port-city near Medan, he did not know where to go, wandering around for several hours in the port until a public minivan driver brought him to the Pancur Batu Police station in Deli Serdang regency.

After learning the boy was a tsunami survivor, the police then contacted the caretaker of the Aceh Sepakat shelter in Medan, and later sent him there.

Treasurer of the North Sumatra's Aceh Women's Association, Rosuna Chowaja, said Rahmat hardly talked at all when he was taken to the shelter.

"It's almost been two weeks since Rahmat stayed here, but his memory is still weak. He is still traumatized about the death of his parents and sister in the tsunami," said Rosuna, adding that Rahmat is now alone in the world.

Both his parents, Udin and Ita, and his little sister Siti Aisyah, were killed when the disastrous earthquake-triggered tsunami devastated Banda Aceh on Dec. 26 last year.

Rosuna said her organization had already planned to put Rahmat back in school in Medan. He was previously a third grader at the Banda Aceh Islamic elementary school.

"All the documents have been arranged. If there are no problems, he should start school tomorrow," said Rosuna.





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