Pakistan: Earthquake orphans still wait for the re-integration strategy

Islamabad (13 June 2007): The lack of authentic and updated data on earthquake orphans has held back the process of policy formation for the rehabilitation and protection of those children who lost their parents in the wake of October 2005 earthquake. This was observed by the panelists in a weekly radio program, Disaster Watch, hosted by the Rural Development Policy Institute (RDPI) and Practical Action South Asia, at a private FM channel.

Representatives of ERRA, Ministry of Social Welfare and Save the Children, who were among the panelists of the program, conceded while responding to the queries of callers that a final survey to collect the information on orphan children has yet to be started in July and this would be used as a baseline for the implementation of social protection strategy for the orphans.

Rabia Nizam, a consultant on social protection, ERRA, Islamabad told that according to an initial survey conducted in March 2006, about 17,800 children lost their fathers; 22,000 lost their mothers and 17, 00 lost both father and mother. According to a rough estimate, Rabia said, there are about 40,000 to 60,000 children who became orphan in the wake of October 2005 earthquake. "However, no disaggregated data on orphans is yet collected," she said. "We are using the data generated through livelihood cash grants scheme which was meant to provide Rs. 3,000 to the most vulnerable households," she informed.

Contradicting the basis of these figures, Salma Jaffar of Save the Children, maintained that these are quite conservative figures as this survey was done as early as in March 2006 when internally displaced persons (IDPs) were living in temporary shelters. "While after the return of IDPs, no specific survey on orphanage was conducted and no policy was formulated to address the issues of these children at longer term basis," she contended.

Responding to another question, Hasan Mangi, Director, National Commission for Child Welfare & Development (NCCWD), Ministry of Social Welfare, and Government of Pakistan said that there was a crisis of capacity among the governing institutions, which caused this confusion of figures and policy formulation on child protection issues. However, they have now come up with National Plan for Action focusing on child protection in quake-hit areas, Mangi said. "In collaboration with UNICEF, we will formulate a rehabilitation strategy for the orphans till July 2007."

Salma Jafar, criticized the earlier official policy on "institutionalization of orphans in orphanage for longer time". She highlighted the emotional and psychological distortions that are associated with the growth of children in sanctuaries and orphanages. Therefore, the re-integration of children with families should be the guiding principle of any forthcoming policy," she suggested.

It was also noted by the panelists that there is till a greater need for enhancing inter-agency cooperation to ensure an efficient service delivery in relation to earthquake recovery and rehabilitation.