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Helping Children After the Tsunami

I'm Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Aid officials are working to help the youngest victims of the December twenty-sixth earthquake and tsunami waves in the Indian Ocean.

The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that one and one-half million children were affected in South Asia. UNICEF says many have lost their parents or been separated from their families. The agency has estimated that more than one-third of the dead were children.

Last week UNICEF appealed for more than one hundred forty million dollars to assist what it calls the "tsunami generation." The request was part of a larger United Nations appeal made Thursday in Jakarta.

UNICEF says money is needed for immunization campaigns to prevent disease. Clean drinking water and special feedings for children and pregnant women are also needed. Another aim is to repair schools, so children can return to classes as soon as possible.

The head of UNICEF says children must also be protected from criminal groups. Carol Bellamy warned that children are at risk of being kidnapped for slavery in the sex trade or forced labor. She praised actions taken by the government of Indonesia in heavily damaged Aceh.

Adoptions of children are now banned in that province. The government also has barred children under the age of sixteen from leaving Aceh except with their parents.

UNICEF is setting up camps in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the other countries affected by the tsunami. Workers will try to reunite children with their parents, extended families and communities. The first step is to identify children who are alone.

Some Western families have offered to adopt children whose parents died in the tsunami. But policies in the affected countries, as well as their own nations, may prevent that at least for now.

The American State Department says any adoptions are probably many months away. It says adoption professionals believe children in a crisis should be kept as close to their family members and community as possible.

The State Department deplored reports of sex crimes, kidnapping and trafficking in persons in the affected countries. A spokesman said there have been enough reports to see a real danger and the need for quick action. He said officials were “horrified that thousands of children orphaned by this disaster” are at risk from criminals “who seek to profit from their misery.”

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. I'm Gwen Outen.