After China's quake, disarray for kids
Authorities are still tallying how many children survived or were orphaned.
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"Most volunteers know nothing about psychology and things are chaotic. Some just keep asking children about their experiences, which is awful," she says. "The child psychology situation in general is not good. We lack resources."Skip to next paragraph
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Children 'are a very easy target'
Meanwhile, with the process of registering refugees still haphazard, the authorities are in no position to provide proper protection for children, especially those who have lost their parents.
"Some places are well organized but others are still in chaos, with young girls and small kids wandering around," frets one foreign expert in children's issues who asked not to be identified. "They are a very easy target for different kinds of abuse, including trafficking."
There have been several reports of such trafficking in recent days.
The living conditions of the children among the estimated 5 million people who have been made homeless vary widely: most are in tents with their families, orphans and boarding school students have been housed in universities, and some are camping in stadiums. Some are attending classes run by volunteers in tents, most are not. Nowhere have regular schools reopened.
Laughter and balloons in a tent city
Among the most fortunate tots on Sunday were those at the Youcheng day-care center, a fenced-in collection of prefabricated buildings and semipermanent tents erected outside Mianzhu on what was a wheat field just a week ago by the China Social Entrepreneur Foundation, based in Beijing.
"Our aim is to provide a safe place for kids," says Ma Wanli, the group's deputy secretary general who oversaw the center's construction. "Very few of their needs are being met, and they can't be met while they are living in those shelters. We have to get them out of their dreadful conditions and into a good environment."
Mr. Ma envisages a mother-and-child center and day-care facilities for about 500 preschool children. On Sunday it was decked with balloons and flags and loud with squeals of laughter as children from the surrounding tent city played with volunteers, their mothers looking on.
"If he could just forget what happened in the disaster and be happy again, that would be great," says Xiao Xinqing as she watches her son play. "I hope this can give him back his happy childhood."
The Youcheng center is a rare bright spot, however. Most children are languishing in hot, cramped tents with little to do and only their harassed parents to care for them. "With the government still focusing on resettling victims it has not had the time nor the energy to organize and coordinate psychological help for kids," explains Shi Zhanbiao, a psychologist from the China Academy of Sciences who is volunteering in refugee camps.
This lack of coordination could continue to plague the authorities as they struggle to resettle millions of earthquake victims in the coming months, warns Mr. Wanli. "In emergencies you need horizontal coordination, but the government works according to orders coming from above," he points out. "Local government has done a good job so far, but its old system doesn't work in these circumstances, and they haven't set up a new one yet."