Greedy kin close in on orphans
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, aged three, like thousands of other children, lost her parents Now she has been separated from her siblings by a grandmother who picked her up from a relief camp in Nagapattinam.
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 Rs 1,00,000 promised by the state and another Rs 1,00,000 pledged by the Center 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 turns 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 centre.
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 voluntary institution.
The organisation, which cares for destitute children, old people and the terminally ill, placed an advertisement in 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.
"We are worried about the plight of these kids as we find in most cases that their relatives have staked claim over them only with an eye on the relief money from the government," said a state official at a relief camp.