01/03/2005, 00.00
INDIA
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Rumours about children being kidnapped to get government money

"Although I have no evidence, it is a possibility," says the Bishop of Thanjavur. UNICEF representative warns against the danger.

Nagapattinam (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Rumours abound in Tamil Nadu about tsunami children being kidnapped in order to get money the government has set aside for orphans.

A UNICEF representative in Nagappattinam told the story of a man who claimed to be an orphan's uncle only to be unmasked by the child's refusal to go with him.

This is happening because, owing to the large number of children who lost parents, the government in New Delhi is granting each orphan 200,000 rupees (€ 4000 or US$ 4500)—half available immediately, the other half when the child reaches 18. This is a lot of money in a country like India where the average salary is US$ 50.

On condition of anonymity, a Tamil Nadu state official expressed concerns "for the fate of the orphans because it is understandable that their families want to claim them hoping they would get government money".

For S. Vidyaakar, founder-director of Chennai-based NGO Udhavum Karangal (Helping Hands), "these orphans are precious to their relatives and even others not related, for the money relief offered by the government."

Contacted by phone, Mgr Devadass Ambrose Mariadoss, Bishop of Thanjavur (40 km from Nagapattinam), told AsiaNews that he "did not know whether such things actually happened [but] was conscious that trafficking in children was a dangerous possibility".

Meanwhile, the death toll in India rose to 9.067—7409 in Tamil Nadu alone—and is expected to climb.

At the same time, some Hindu fundamentalist have started claiming that the tsunami was "divine retribution" for the arrest of Jayendra Saraswati, one of contemporary Hinduism's better known spiritual leaders. Known as the "Hindu Pope", Jayendra was arrested in November 2004 in Tamil Nadu's capital of Chennai on charges of murdering an aide. (LF)

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