By MIN LWIN
The Irrawaddy News
Despite an estimated 138,000 people dead or missing after Cyclone Nargis lashed the southern Burmese coast some four months ago, only 112 orphans are officially registered in state-run temporary orphanages.
However, the UN has estimated the number of children orphaned in the May 2-3 storm at about 2,000 and observers have told The Irrawaddy they fear that many orphans have been recruited into the Tatmadaw, Burma’s armed forces.
An official from Myaung Mya temporary camp confirmed that 112 orphans are officially registered at the shelters, although initial estimates in the wake of the cyclone put the number at more than 500.
“There are 100 orphans registered at Myaung Mya camp and 12 orphans at Maubin camp, all between the ages of four and nineteen,” she said, referring to the only shelters that have been founded for orphans of Cyclone Nargis.
However, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in June that at least 2,000 children in the region had been orphaned, while international and local aid agencies put the figure at much higher.
Sources in Laputta Township in Irrawaddy Division said there were more than 1,000 orphans in that area alone after Nargis struck.
Rev Lu Aye from Thanlyin Township, south of Rangoon, said that his church had planned to adopt 20 orphans from Pyapon, Bogalay and Laputta townships in the wake of the disaster, but had been unable to.
“We have already built the orphanages,” the Methodist church leader told The Irrawaddy. “However, although we are actively looking for orphans, we can’t get any information about them.
“I have no idea where they are staying,” he added.
The Burmese military authorities will not allow orphans to be adopted by any random organization or individual, according to an official from the Social Welfare Department.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told The Irrawaddy on Monday that if a child had no parents the government would be responsible for them.
“We will not allow individuals to legally adopt orphans,” she said. “However, if family members can produce the correct documents we will allow them to be reunited with their orphaned relatives.”
She said that the government is also helping to locate the orphans’ surviving family members and is currently providing education for orphans up to university and institute level in accordance with the child’s educational standard.
Residents in cyclone-ravaged Laputta Township said that the military authorities had promised to build two orphanages in Laputta and Pyapon to house 300 orphans each.
However, according to a former teacher in Laputta, no facilities have yet been built.
“I was impressed by the local communities’ response to the orphans, especially by monks who offered shelters to orphans and took care of them,” she added.