Jakarta (AsiaNews) The first cases of illegal adoption of Aceh orphans have been confirmed. Government estimates put the number of children with dead or missing parents at 35,000. Since the tragic tsunami of December 26, at least 20 children are thought to have been smuggled out of Sumatra, this according to the Medan-based Aceh Sepakat Foundation which reports that 20 Acehnese children have gone missing from a refugee camp and are thought to have been illegally taken to Malaysia or Bandung (West Java) by another Medan-based foundation.
An official with the Aceh Sepakat Foundation said the children went missing after being taken by "irresponsible people" whose main targets are newly-born babies and children under 15.
The Jakarta Post reports that at least one foundation offered Acehnese orphans to potential foster parents via short messaging services (SMS).
To stop child trafficking, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered that all minors under 16 not leave Aceh or the country. To enforce this, harbour and airport controls have been beefed up in Medan (North Sumatra). However, many orphans have already been taken to Medan, Jakarta and Yogyakarta.
Human Rights and Legal Affairs Minister Hamid Awaluddin confirmed the government is going to impose stricter controls but had to acknowledge that some "illegal adoptions have taken place".
General Suyitno Landung briefed police chiefs from the provinces of Aceh, North Sumatra, Riau, Batam, Jakarta, South and North Sumatra explaining how child traffickers were able to enter refugee camps claiming to be either relatives, representatives of humanitarian agencies or would-be adoptive parents. He ordered them to do everything to stop trafficking and adoptions.
The government also set up a special unit charged with Aceh infants, children and orphans. In the province's capital of Banda Aceh a new orphanage will be built as quickly as possible to host all the parentless children. Should it still prove too small, the authorities plan to build another one in Medan.
Adoptions will only be possible after orphanages are built and on the condition that Muslim orphans will be available for adoption by Muslim families only. Hence, all adoptions will have to be approved by the Council of Ulemas even though they will still be within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Social Affairs. (MH)