The director of the United Nations' Children's Fund, Carol Bellamy, says child survivors are beginning to return to school in the nations hit by the December 26 tsunami. The UNICEF chief says reopening schools are a sign of recovery in the hit hard Indian Ocean region.
U.N. relief officials are now saying that half the victims of the tsunami were children, raising their previous estimate of one-third. Ms. Bellamy say the global children's' fund is now focusing its efforts on children who survived, trying to unite them with their families and protect them from exploitation.
Ms. Bellamy says getting schools up and running is a top priority for the children's well being and a key to long-term recovery. The tsunami damaged thousands of schools in the region and killed or injured thousands of teachers.
"For one thing, getting children back into schools keeps them safe,” she said. “It focuses them on constructive activities and it gives their families hope, a little extra peace of mind. It brings a little bit of normalcy into the child's life and it gives some hope to the parents. At the same time, schools also provide a place where services can be offered whether they are immunization campaigns or health checks, distribution of clothes or other supplies, education about the use of hygiene, trauma counseling. Being in school gets children back on track toward their own futures, ensuring that the disaster does not hold back a whole generation of children."
Ms. Bellamy says immunization and clean water have helped prevent serious outbreaks of disease. She says UNICEF's number one concern is Aceh province in Indonesia, where 20 cases of measles have been reported.
Ms. Bellamy says UNICEF is working with the nations involved to register and identify children to reunite them with their families and protect them from exploitation. She says two of the three children who were recruited from displaced persons camps by Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka have been returned to their families. The third case is still being followed.
Ms. Bellamy visited Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the two nations most affected by the tsunami, last week.