updated 1/8/2005 12:19:51 PM ET 2005-01-08T17:19:51

Indonesia said Saturday it was monitoring its borders to prevent child traffickers from smuggling young victims of the tsunami out of the country, and it will set up centers inside refugee camps to care for children and reunite them with their families.

The government and UNICEF also will establish centers to care for traumatized women, Minister of Women’s Empowerment Meutia Hatta said.

UNICEF spokesman John Budd said the centers would provide health care and counseling for children and seek to reunite them with their families. Both women and children who have lost family members will be cared for at the centers.

“If a child is without parents and family, they are incredibly vulnerable,” Budd said.

Twenty centers staffed by about 380 trained volunteers will be set up in hard-hit Aceh province, Meutia said.

“The volunteers’ duty is to restore the self-confidence of women and children,” Meutia said. “There are plenty of women feeling empty and who keep crying because they lost their families.”

Smuggling reports unconfirmed
There have been sporadic reports of attempted child trafficking in Indonesia since the Dec. 26 earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered a deadly tsunami, but police say there have been no confirmed cases.

Authorities believe as many as 30,000 children are among the victims of the disaster. Indonesia raised its official death toll Saturday to 104,055 as the total in 11 nations surpassed 150,000.

Medan, the main city on Sumatra island, has a reputation as a base for criminal gangs that sell children into servitude or for sexual exploitation.

Rahmat Sentika, deputy for child welfare at Meutia’s ministry, said Saturday his department had not received any official report on trafficking of Acehnese children, but it was moving to ensure such smuggling does not happen.

“Our department, in cooperation with police, is monitoring all strategic places and cities around the borders,” he said.

Indonesia recently placed restrictions on children younger than 16 leaving the country in an effort to avert child trafficking.

UNICEF spokesman John Budd, based in Jakarta, said the group had received two reports of attempted child trafficking that were considered reliable but had not been confirmed by the agency.

However, in one of those cases, police said they believed the adults involved were well-intentioned and had not committed any crime. Police said they had not received any reports about the second case.

Rahmat estimated that between 500 and 1,000 Acehnese children were transferred to Jakarta, mostly by their relatives. At least 18 also have died at hospitals in the Indonesian capital.

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