PHUKET, Thailand – Forty percent of the South Asia tsunami victims are believed to be children. Many did not survive the rage of water, while others watched friends and family members get killed or have seen dead bodies litter beaches like seashells.
They have lived through horror.
The recovery process for kids will take years as the region gets back on its feet, according to Thailand UNICEF Director Andrew Morris. Here in this country, because the infrastructure is so strong and the supply lines already in place, efforts will focus on the mental health of children.
North of Khao Lak (search) once stood the village of Nam Khem. At one point a wall of water more than 35-feet-high swept nearly a mile inland and wiped out everything in its path; new five-star resorts, homes, cars, bridges and most tragic — young ones too weak to fight the tsunami.
The children who were not swept away now call a nearby refugee camp home.
More than 10,000 people live in purple and green speckled tents or temporary make-shift houses with dirt floors and shiny metal roofs. The kids play soccer. The smiles seen on young faces as they eat ice cream might mask trauma brewing from within.
Abuse, predators and exploitation are also top concerns for UNICEF workers. They have asked camp teachers and parents to keep an extra watchful eye out and count children each day, Morris said.
Some unconfirmed cases of child exploitation have been reported in Sri Lanka (search) where guards are posted on children watch; this is also the case where possible in Indonesia (search). Children in both countries are in desperate need of humanitarian aid, hundreds of thousands are in very serious danger of disease. Supplies are getting here but they aren't necessarily getting out to those who need them.
Thailand isn’t allowing children under the age of 16 to leave the country without being accompanied by a member of their Thai family. Child and human trafficking has been a problem in this region before.
UNICEF believes the recovery process for kids will take years as the region gets back on its feet.