Mon, Jan 03, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Siblings separated for cash

EXPLOITATION The relatives of children orphaned by the tsunamis have pulled families apart in order to claim relief money promised to children, aid organizations say

AFP , Nagapattinam, India

Aid groups and government officials are concerned that orphans are being split among relatives more eager to obtain money promised for tsunami survivors than to care for the children.

Jayashree, just 3 years old, like thousands of other children across Asia, lost her parents in the tsunami.

Now she has been separated from her siblings by a grandmother who picked her up from a relief camp in Nagapattinam, the worst-hit district on the Indian mainland with 5,500 deaths.

Dressed in a crumpled pink dress that she found among a pile of used clothes from nearby Akkrapattai fishing hamlet, Jayashree pines continually for her sister Nithya, 6, and brother Gunasekaran, 10.

Her maternal grandmother appears patient when visitors are around but snarls at the child when she thinks no-one is watching.

The paternal grandmother picked up Nithya and Guna.

Both grandmothers stand to collect 100,000 rupees (US$2,272 dollars) promised by the state and another 100,000 rupees pledged by the federal government as the nearest relatives.

The government money is, however, intended to go into fixed deposits for an orphaned child to access when he or she reaches the age of 18.

Jayashree said sadly that her parents have gone "kizhakku poyirukkaanga" -- gone east, which in her village of some 5,000 fishing families means going to the beach to trade fish.

Jayashree's story is repeated almost in every relief center across the Tamil Nadu shoreline.

One UNICEF official said a man, who turned up claiming to be an uncle of an orphaned boy turned out to be a fraud after the child refused to go with him.

"Obviously, these orphans are precious to their relatives and even others not related, for the money relief offered by the government," said S. Vidyaakar, founder-director of Madras-based `Udhavum Karangal' (Helping Hands), a volunteer institution,

The organization, which cares for destitute children, old people and the terminally ill, placed an advertisement in the newspapers offering to take tsunami orphans into care. It received not a single response.

Vidyaakar, however, fears his time will come sooner than later, when the relatives grab the relief money and then dump the orphans on the road.

"Then we will step in and take care of those unfortunate ones," he said.

Started in 1982, Udhavum Karangal provides care for about 2,000 people, almost 500 of them children.

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