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Child victims face starvation, trafficking

Updated: 2013-11-23 01:34
( Agencies)

Child victims face starvation, trafficking 

Residents scramble toward a Philippine Air Force helicopter delivering aid to a fishing village near Caragari on Thursday. ODD ANDERSEN / Agence France-Presse

Hungry children as young as six are begging for food by the side of the road in the typhoon-lashed Philippines, victims of a disaster that could echo through their lives for years.

"We ran out of rice," says 9-year-old Shamsher Hussein. "It was swept away by the water."

Shamsher and other youngsters from remote villages around Salcedo have scruffy handmade signs pleading for something to eat.

Children such as Shamsher and 6-year-old John Mark Balbada can be found all over the area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, whose 315 kilometer per hour winds wreaked devastation across a swathe of an already poor part of the country. While the government says food aid is now getting through to all communities, there are still many children going hungry.

The United Nations estimates that 5 million people under the age of 18 were affected by one of the most powerful storms ever recorded on land. Around 1.7 million were made homeless.

At the extreme end of the scale, they face horrendous risks, said Sarah Norton-Staal, UNICEF Philippines child protection chief, particularly those from the hard-hit agricultural areas where many would have been employed to work in now-useless fields.

"When those livelihoods are destroyed, we have a situation of desperation," she told reporters in Manila. "This area is already known as a high-risk area for child trafficking and now you have a population that is desperate, vulnerable, displaced and has nothing.

"In crisis situations like this, children get separated from their parents, and when they get separated they become that much more vulnerable," Norton-Staal said.

Similar large-scale natural disasters in the past have resulted in a 10-percent rise in the instances of child trafficking, she said.

"We need to make them aware of predators, to be aware of those criminal elements."

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