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Quake-hit kids battle traffickers

Amid the chaos, child welfare groups and Pakistani authorities worry that the separated or orphaned children might make good targets for child traffickers or even childless couples.

india Updated: Oct 18, 2005 19:23 IST

Before Mohamed Sajid was bundled alone onto a helicopter in Muzaffarabad in the center of the area stricken by South Asia's massive earthquake, his father scrawled his son's name - and his own - onto a piece of paper and stuffed it into the 13-year-old boy's shirt pocket.

Five days later, Mohamed hung tightly onto that piece of paper at the Rawalpindi General Hospital; a small sense of security in his unsettled life. "Only my father can take me," said Mohamed, showing the piece of paper. "I will wait for him."

Since the Oct 8 magnitude-7.6 quake hit, some 1,000 children have been evacuated from the stricken region of Kashmir for medical care. Amid the chaos, child welfare groups and Pakistani authorities worry that the separated or orphaned children might make good targets for child traffickers or even childless couples.

The issue also surfaced in the aftermath of the Dec 26 tsunami disaster that hit 11 nations around the Indian Ocean. In the best-known case, an infant tsunami survivor nicknamed 'Baby 81' was claimed by nine different couples until DNA tests proved he was Abilass Jeyarajah and the 4-month-old was given back to his true parents.

The US State Department has labeled Pakistan "a source, transit, and destination country for trafficked persons" while the International Labor Organization estimates that close to 100,000 people are trafficked internally each year.

Children have been a particular target, smuggled out of the country for use in oil-rich Middle Eastern countries to ride camels in races, preferred for the dangerous job because they are light.

First Published: Oct 18, 2005 19:23 IST