Subject: Refugee babies dying, children being abducted for sex exploitation

312 babies die in refugee camps, 11,892 are ill and malnourished 19 October, Suara Pembaruan and Kompas, summarised

[The information gathered by these well-known Indonesian child-care investigators gives an alarming picture of the dangers being confronted by thousands of unprotected orphaned East Timorese children. It also confirms earlier reports that a selection process took place as the hundreds of thousands of people were driven across the border, with young men being separated from their families.]

At least 312 East Timorese babies have died in refugee camps in Nusa Tenggara Timur (West Timor) and 11,892 are ill and suffering from malnutrition, according to investigations by the National Commission for the Protection of Children which were conducted from 11-14 October in six refugee camps located in the villages of Naibonat, Noebaki, Naen, Nenuk, Atampupu and Atambua. There was a grave shortage of medicines and what medical facilities were available were too far away to be of any use.

The main causes of death are diarrhoea and respiratory infections [both of which are easily curable conditions], said Ariest Merdeka Sirait. He warned that more deaths would occurred in the very near future because it is now raining heavily in some of the places where the refugees are located.

Ariest said that all the 265,933 refugees now in West Timor were at risk because they were having to sleep in places surrounded by flood water.

Another of the investigators, Seto Mulyadi, said that government relief supplied to the refugees only considered the needs of adults and completely ignored the psychological problems of the children between the ages of 2 and 12. Seto Mulyadi who is a child psychologist said that there is a very pressing need for psychological assistance for the refugee children. Without it, the further growth of these children would badly affected.

Sirait said that 60 per cent of the refugees are children below the age of 14, most of them babies. 'They are living in very stressful conditions, lacking food and already malnourished.' He said that according to the NTT social affairs department, 9,927 babies are ill and 1,965 children are malnourished.

Seto Mulyadi said that with the help of a number of NGOs, religious groups and UNICEF, agreement had been reached to set up trauma centres for the children.

Ariest said that the social consequences of the events leading to the evacuation of the East Timorese to NTT were enormous. Many of the children had lost both parents and all contact with relatives. He said that most of the refugees in the camps which they had visted were children and people who were elderly and infirm. They had found few people between the ages of 16 and 30 years.

He said that this raises very serious questions about what was going on. Where are all the teenagers and adults? Figures seem to suggest that they were in camps close to the border with East Timor. Some have apparently been recruited to join the PPTT (Struggle Force for East Timor). He also said that he had heard that PPTT recruitment centres had been set up to recruit NTT men who were being paid Rp 300,000 a month.

He said that the many orphans in the camps were deeply traumatised, after having experienced so much violence and scorched earth.

At least forty children between the ages of 5 and 12 had been taken from Kupang to Denpasar and Jakarta by plane. Ariest said his organisation were trying to find out who had organised this and why the children had been removed.

He said that the fate of these children was very worrisome as they more than likely facing the prospect of being exploited and used in the sex trade which is now expanding very fast. [Ariest is the coordinator for the National Commission's s department for the sexual and economic exploitation of children.]

The danger of underage children being exploited was great, he warned, and there were many attempts to adopt children. 'Although the social affairs department had rejected many adoption requests, we heard that there have been many illegal adoptions with children been taken away in exchange for the payment of Rp 25,000 per child,' he said.

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