Wed, Jan 19, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Sri Lanka inundated with tsunami adoption requests

AP , Colombo, Sri Lanka

Their plight has touched hearts around the world: children left parentless and homeless, their futures uncertain and bleak.

In the weeks since the tsunami claimed 31,000 Sri Lankan lives and tore apart a million more, adoption agencies here have been flooded with applications and inundated with telephone calls.

Couples who never thought before of adoption, celibate Buddhist priests and the even the country's president herself have been eager to take in a tsunami-orphaned child.

The government's two main child protection institutions report 2,065 adoption applications -- more than twice the number of children orphaned by the Dec. 26 disaster, according to estimates by the UN children's agency.

"There are not enough orphans to satisfy the number of tsunami adoption applicants," said Sarath Abeygunewardene, commissioner of the Child Care and Probation Department.

And the numbers keep growing.

"We have no kids of our own, and it seemed the best way to help," said Sushila Wijekoon, a doctor who has been working, along with her physician husband, in refugee camps in the southern region of Balapitiya.

Childless after seven years of marriage, they had never applied before, she said.

But authorities caution that a hasty adoption can harm the child and lead to unhappy families.

"The worst thing is to rush into adoptions," said Professor Harendra de Silva, chief of the government National Child Protection Authority. "Some have applied for adoptions in the heat of an emotional response to the tsunami."

De Silva said the first priority should be to trace surviving relatives, keeping the child within the extended family.

"We won't even think of adoption for at least the next six months," he said.

"The issue of adoption should be put on the back-burner for the moment," said Ted Chaiban, head of UNICEF in Sri Lanka, agreeing that the extended family gives children "some familiar surroundings."

Meanwhile, other problems -- and horror stories -- have emerged.

In a Buddhist temple in the south, police arrested a man who tried to sell his two granddaughters to foreigners after their mother was killed in the tsunami.

Villagers and religious clergy speak of grief-stricken mothers taking children off the street, trying to replace those they lost to the deadly waves.

In the eastern district of Ampara, nine desperate women are battling to claim a 3-month-old boy dubbed "Baby 81." The infant was found caked in mud on a beach by an old man and brought to a hospital -- the 81st admission that day.

DNA tests are planned to determine whom, if any, among the nine women is the real mother -- a process that is likely to take months.

Child trafficking in the guise of adoption is another concern, said Arun Tampo, a veteran child activist. "They may take this opportunity to snatch children for work in factories or homes or use them for the sex trade," he said.

In the southern town of Galle, Thalawe Dhamma Joti, a saffron-robed Buddhist monk, sat outside the Child Probation office, hoping the district commissioner would give him some orphans he can train as monks.

"What's the harm? This could be their calling," he said.

Nihal and Padma Kaluarachchi were happy with their family of two children until the tsunami struck.

"We visited several refugee camps, and the plight of the children brought tears to my eyes," said Nihal said, their young son and daughter huddled next to their mother, Padma.

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