By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI, May 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Hundreds of children remain separated from their parents two months after a powerful cyclone battered Mozambique leaving them in limbo and at risk of abuse or being trafficked into slavery, charities warned on Wednesday.
Cyclone Idai struck central Mozambique on March 14, ripping apart homes, schools and health clinics, and its heavy rains causing flooding over vast tracts of farmland, destroying crops.
It was followed by another cyclone, Kenneth, which hit Mozambique's north six weeks later. The twin storms left more than 650 people dead and affected almost 2 million more.
Save the Children said an assessment in Sofala province after cyclone Idai found more than 400 children were without parents two months after the disaster and the number could rise as other storm-hit provinces were assessed. "Prior to the cyclone, many children in Mozambique were already vulnerable. This emergency has only exacerbated these conditions," said Lauren Murray, child protection advisor for Save the Children in Mozambique, in a statement.
"While we're doing all we can, we need additional resources to ensure we reach the most vulnerable children, those at risk of exploitation, abuse and violence."
The children were now living with relatives or people from their village in temporary shelters, the charity said.
Mozambique's government has set up a task-force with humanitarian groups such as Save the Children and the United Nations children's agency (UNICEF) to register all separated children, trace their parents and reunify families.
Kieran Dwyer, spokesman for UNICEF in Mozambique, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that children had suffered terribly from the two cyclones and floods in central Mozambique.
He said temporary shelters were being closed down and separated children — along with adults they know — moved to newly allocated more organised, safer resettlement areas.
"We are working to ensure the protection of children who are in the care of extended family but who have not yet been reunified with their parents, as well as ensuring that the smaller number of children who are still not accompanied by any family are in interim care," said Dwyer.
Save the Children said they faced challenges as children were often unable to communicate or remember where they lived, and a lack of funds and damaged roads have restricted aid workers' ability to locate parents in remote areas.
Children who were not looked after well could fall prey to human traffickers, the charity added.
Mozambique is a source, transit, and, to a lesser extent, destination country for men, women and children who are trafficked into forced labour and sexual slavery, according to the US State Department's 2018 Trafficking in Persons report.
Children are often forced to work in sectors such as farming and mining. Women and girls are often lured to cities in Mozambique or South Africa with promises of jobs, only to be sold into domestic or sexual servitude, it added.
"It's a coping mechanism to survive - they start working to make a living, or to help out, or are physically forced to work. Some form of 'work' might be sexual, to make a living, which amounts to sexual abuse/exploitation," said Save the Children spokesman Rik Goverde.
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)