[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 January, 2005, 17:22 GMT
Criminals target tsunami victims
By Kate McGeown
BBC News

Children-survivors board a C-130 transport plane at military-controlled airport in Banda Aceh, 1 Jan 2005
Young victims of the tsunami are especially vulnerable
They have already survived an experience that most people can scarcely imagine. But the victims of the Asian tsunami now face a new danger - criminals and opportunists trying to cash in on their misfortune.

"Unfortunately it's a golden opportunity for people to make money," said criminal psychologist Mike Berry.

"Some people will be incredibly depressed and that makes them easy targets. They are very vulnerable," he told the BBC News website.

Given the scale of the disaster, it is remarkable that only isolated examples of crime have emerged so far. But for the already traumatised victims, the impact can be devastating.

There are already reports of looting in many of the affected countries - with homes, shops and even dead bodies being targeted.

And in Sri Lanka, some of the disaster victims have allegedly been raped in refugee camps.

One of the most disturbing allegations is that criminal gangs are befriending children orphaned by the tsunami, and selling them to sex traffickers.

The Indonesian government has banned children under the age of 16 from being transferred from the devastated province of Aceh amid fears that trafficking syndicates were moving into the area.

The UN's children's' agency, Unicef, said it had received several reports of criminals offering kidnapped children from Aceh for sale or adoption.

A spokesman for Unicef in Indonesia, John Budd, said there had been one confirmed case of a child being smuggled from the devastated Indonesian province of Aceh to the nearby city of Medan for trafficking purposes.

I don't think you could have a more vulnerable child on earth than a child in this situation
John Budd, Unicef
He said there were also unconfirmed reports of up to 20 other children being taken to Malaysia, and possible hundreds to Jakarta.

"I don't think you could have a more vulnerable child on Earth than a child in this situation," Mr Budd told the BBC News website.

"A young child who has gone through what they have witnessed will be barely surviving in terms of psychological health."

While he stressed that at least some of these children could have been taken by people who are simply well-meaning, Unicef was very concerned that others were being abducted by organised gangs, posing as NGOs or family friends.

Mr Budd has recently become aware of an SMS message being sent widely around Asia advertising 300 Aceh orphans for sale.

He said that as a matter of urgency, Unicef was setting up registration schemes around Aceh to account for all children currently on their own.

False uncle

The threat to children is not confined to Aceh. There are reports that a 12-year-old Swedish boy injured in the tsunami in Thailand may have been kidnapped from a hospital.

The boy's American father flew to Thailand to find him. But although staff said he had been there the day after the disaster, there was no longer any trace of him.

According to Unicef, a man in India who claimed to be one child's uncle turned out to be a fraud.

A Tamil woman grieves over lost relatives in last weekend's massive tsunamis in a makeshift refugee camp, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2005,
Victims who are traumatised make easy targets
In Sri Lanka, the National Child Protection Authority is investigating reports that two girls were sexually abused at a shelter in Galle, and a separate report that another woman was gang-raped.

Police told the AFP news agency they had received no complaints of rape, but a rights group in Colombo, the Women and Media Collective, said it had been told of "incidents of rape, gang rape, molestation and physical abuse".

"There is likely to be a lot of anger around, and this can be taken out on the women," said Mr Berry.

Even the dead are not safe from those who want to cash in on the disaster.

Jewellery has been reportedly stolen from the bodies of victims in Thailand - and from their homes and shops.

Other countries in the region have been plagued with fake tsunami warnings.

In both East Timor and Malaysian Borneo, false reports of an imminent disaster have forced people from their homes - leaving them empty, and ideal hunting grounds for looters.

Opportunists are not only targeting the countries directly affected by the quake, but also others - many on the other side of the world - which have lost citizens in the disaster.

More than 2,000 people are feared dead in Sweden, but the authorities in Stockholm have said they are not publishing the names of those affected for fear that thieves could break into their properties.

Even those who want to donate to the crisis have been affected.

A collection box for the disaster appeal was stolen from Salisbury Cathedral in England, and fake e-mail messages claiming to be from Oxfam have been sent to people in Hong Kong, asking them to donate money to the relief effort.

Any money donated went instead to a bank account in Europe, according to police and charity workers.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific