In the Philippines, working hard to ensure no harm comes to children separated from their families by Typhoon Bopha
By Marge Francia
COMPOSTELA VALLEY, Mindanao, The Philippines, 14 December 2012 – A few weeks before Christmas, 13-year-old Mary* dreams that she is having a Christmas party with her friends and family.
Mary will awaken later to realize she has been knocked out by a log swept along with the floods and mud.
It is the day that Typhoon Bopha has crashed into the southern Philippines.
A rare occurrence
4 December 2012 changed the lives of more than 250,000 Filipino children living in the worst affected areas of the Philippines. Typhoon Bopha made landfall in the early hours of the morning, in a region that is rarely visited by typhoons.
It unleashed strong winds over miles and caused more than 740 deaths. 890 people are still missing.
At the time of the floods, Mary was at home with her uncle and his family, her adoptive family. Mary’s biological mother was also visiting. Mary and her 7-year-old cousin Bettina received warnings and evacuated to the barangay (village) hall while her family packed their belongings.
A narrow escape
“I waited and waited for my mother. I went back to the house because I wanted to help them carry our things. Then I saw our house being swept away, so I ran back to the village hall. I asked – where could my mother be? Then my cousin started crying,” says Mary, surveying the wounds that cover her arms and legs.
Mary escaped to higher ground twice, before being completely overwhelmed by floodwaters and losing hold of her cousin. Days after that terrible night, they found the body of her uncle, whom she fondly called father, buried under the mud and debris. They still have not found her mother, aunt, her 19-year-old cousin Jerome or Bettina.
Mary fell under the care of social workers, who are trying to locate her next of kin.
No double victims
“In situations such as these, separated or unaccompanied children must be given proper care, and all measures should be put in place for them to be reunited with their relatives. We must also strengthen child protection systems so that no further harm comes to them, so that they are not exploited, abused, or trafficked,” says UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Jesus Far.
UNICEF is working with the Department of Social Welfare and Development to register and create protected areas for children to ensure that no child becomes a ‘double victim’ of her or his circumstances. Mary has chosen to live with a teacher in her community instead of a girls’ home.
“I want to stay here in my community, because this is where I live,” says Mary, with certainty.
*Name has been changed to protect the child’s identity.