As if losing their families was not awful enough, some children may be facing the prospect of sexual abuse or being sold into slavery. One potential horror story is that of Kristian Walker, a 12-year-old Swedish boy last seen leaving a Thai hospital with an unidentified man. It is feared he may have fallen into the hands of paedophiles who have been known to gather in Thailand. The UN says it has also received reports of adults posing as foster parents to take children abroad for sale.
The director of one French aid group helping youngsters in the disaster zone says that, in such circumstances, children are best off being adopted locally. “They shouldn’t be uprooted,” says Clare Calosci. “Of course people want to protect them and raise them, but this should be done in their country where their long-term future lies.”
The UN children’s agency UNICEF says one of its top priorities is to stop the most vulnerable victims of the disaster being taken advantage of. In some of the stricken areas half of the population is aged under 19. There is already talk of a “tsunami generation” of children under threat from hunger, disease, and psychological trauma.