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Type of document: News
Topic: Evaluation
Geographic descriptors: Pakistan
Language: English
Source: mathaba.net/0_index.shtml?x=396750
Date of publication: 20 October 2005
Long Abstract: Earthquake orphans under guard to stop child trafficking

Posted: 10/19 From: Source • Agencies warn of hospital kidnap threat in Pakistan

• Criminal gangs and childless couples blamed

Declan Walsh in Islamabad

Wednesday October 19, 2005 The Guardian

Relief agencies in Pakistan fear children separated from their families in the post-earthquake chaos are at risk from human traffickers and childless couples.

Thousands of injured children have been flown by helicopter from the areas worst hit by the October 8 quake that devastated Kashmir and North West Frontier province. Many are in the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) hospital in Islamabad. Its director said yesterday that a policewoman was posted outside the ward and security guards vetted visitors at the main hospital entrance after reported attempts to abduct children.

No child may leave without stringent checks said Dr Anjum Javed. "We check their parents' national ID cards with the police and, if necessary, with the intelligence agencies," he said.

An unknown number of children arrive at hospitals unaccompanied - because their parents are dead or lost - and aid agencies fear there are few safeguards to prevent strangers snatching them. "We are very worried," said Julia Spry-Leverton of Unicef. "We are urging the government to put measures in place to make sure this doesn't happen."

Amid the concerns for those children who have been rescued, there was a glimmer of hope for those people still trying to rebuild their lives in the isolated areas devastated by the quake. The Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, proposed allowing Kashmiri residents to cross the ceasefire line that divides the province to help with reconstruction efforts. "We will allow every Kashmiri to come across the Line of Control and assist in the reconstruction effort," he said. India welcomed the proposal. "This is in line with India's advocacy of greater movement across the LoC for relief work and closer people-to-people contacts," said a foreign ministry spokesman, Navtej Sarna.

Meanwhile, in the children's ward of Pims, the Guardian found Huma Kazmi, 12. Rescuers had pulled her from the rubble of her village school after three days without food or water. Huma's legs were broken and her wounds badly infected. The army flew her from Muzaffarabad to Pims. But when she came to a day later, there was a woman by her bed. "She said she was my aunt," said Huma yesterday. "She said: 'You are all alone here. Come to my house and I'll take care of you. There's another hospital nearby.'"

Huma did not know the woman, whom she described as young and wearing an orange shawl over a white shalwar kameez. But she knew she did not like her, and alerted staff. The woman fled. "We already suspected something was wrong," said the ward doctor, Irshad Khan. "It wasn't normal to want to take such a badly injured child home for treatment."

It is not the only case. In the next bed lay Jahangir Jamil, 10. An unknown man had tried to claim him. He was too traumatised by the earthquake to give any details, said Fozia Irum, a volunteer counsellor. "He weeps or shouts or calls for his mother," she said. The man disappeared. Dr Javed stressed that the threat of child abduction at the hospital remained small - just seven of the 960 children at Pims were unaccompanied and all were being carefully monitored, he said. But the general issue has worried the Pakistani authorities, which are keen to prevent the adoption dramas similar to those in south Asia after December's tsunami. In the most notorious case nine couples claimed an infant survivor known as "Baby 81" until a DNA test identified his real parents.

Adoption is uncommon in Pakistan, where orphans are easily adopted into close-knit family networks. But experts fear such safety nets have been strained by the earthquake. Every year hundreds of Pakistani youngsters are smuggled to oil-rich Middle Eastern countries for use as jockeys during the camel-racing season. More than 400 minors were returned from the United Arab Emirates earlier this summer.

Responding to the growing concern, the prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, ordered on Sunday that all earthquake orphans be registered and taken into government care. None would be put up for adoption. The International Committee of the Red Cross will try to reunite families over the coming months.
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