Existing services cannot cope with 12,000 children in need
While the immediate priority was to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in refugee camps across Aceh after the tsunami hit, a longer-term plan could include orphan sponsorship, an Indonesian government official said yesterday.
Makmur Sanusi, director of the Welfare Ministry's child protection unit, said the government was considering a sponsorship system supported by international aid agencies for as many as 12,000 children who could not be accommodated by existing orphanages and boarding schools.
As children in some areas began returning to school, Mr Makmur estimated that 15,000 children lost both parents and would need to be placed in orphanages, boarding schools or in the care of their community in line with traditional Acehnese culture.
'Because private and public orphanages and Muslim boarding schools only have capacity for 3,000, we may launch a campaign for sponsors to help care for and educate some 12,000 children,' he said shortly after returning from the province.
'In Acehnese culture, the community will care for the children in the absence of their parents, but because of the numbers, we need outside help.'
Adoption agencies have received expressions of interest from hundreds of foreigners in adopting an Acehnese child, but the government has banned adoption - a highly complex undertaking in Indonesia at the best of times - until identification and family tracing processes are completed.
In addition, it has put a temporary moratorium on Acehnese children under 16 from travelling outside the country without a parent, amid evidence that child trafficking gangs could be targeting the region.
Of more immediate concern is vaccinating 575,000 children against measles after a 10-year-old girl living with a family in Banda Aceh was found to have contracted the disease, which in developing countries kills between 3 and 5 per cent of affected children.
The United Nations children's fund and health department officials have vaccinated more than 1,000 children since Monday and expect to have covered Aceh's entire surviving population within three weeks, Unicef spokesman John Budd said.
'This potential epidemic needs to be addressed with absolute speed and urgency and we are now racing against time to get all those children vaccinated.'