Children and natural disaster

The death toll from last week’s earthquake in south-west China has risen to 40,075, officials have said.

In a catastrophe, resulting from natural disasters or wars, children are the most vulnerable; especially, when they are orphaned and left without relatives to take care of them.

Concerning the situation in Burma and China, each should be considered differently. In Burma, the government is to a large extent responsible for the misery of children there. It refused all sorts of help from “unfriendly” donors, especially the West, which it regards with suspicion. The military junta there preferred to see people of all ages suffer rather than open its seclusive country to foreign aid workers. Perhaps their human actions will be contrasted with the brutal treatment of the military regime by the affected people.

China has the responsibility to take care of orphaned children because of its birth control policy that has reduced the members of each family. Each family has the right to only one child, which means orphaned children can’t have a grown-up brother or sister to turn to. This catastrophe is a test for the Popular Republic of China to show that it can really care for all its population, especially in hard times like these.

On the whole, children, orphaned or having witnessed horror, need support to overcome the trauma experienced in their tender years. They shouldn’t be left alone, the victims of an experience that can accompany them for the rest of their lives.

Children of this kind having become familless should be adopted by the whole society that should cater for them by sheltering them in decent homes, and providing them with special education to face life when adults. They can also be adopted by other families. For them, unlike adults, they don’t need just material aid to survive, but also psychological support to feel they have a new life for better after having experienced the worst.

It is also the responsibility of the international and local aid agencies to closely follow their needs. The natural disaster may be over. The land it destroyed can be rebuilt easily. But to rebuild a shattered life needs to be done piece by piece without neglecting any essential side.

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