Why is it even necessary for the United Nations to issue a warning about the danger of children who survived the Dec. 26 tsunami being sold into slavery? Because as depraved as it is, there are individuals who look at the children left alone in this world since losing their parents and other close relatives as nothing more than chattel.
As the now widely publicized mobile phone text message revealed, it wasn't only the vultures that showed up soon after the tsunami, caused by a 9.0 Richter scale earthquake, swept over countries in South Asia and East Africa, claiming more than 150,000 lives, a third of them children.
"Three hundred orphans aged 3-10 years from Aceh for adoption," the text message read. "All paperwork will be taken care of. No fee. Please state age and sex of child required." Aceh was the hardest hit area in Indonesia. It is not far from the port city of Medan and nearby island of Batam, which are well-known transit points for gangs shipping children and teenagers out of the country, according to the Associated Press.
Whether the individual who sent the message already had 300 children ready to be sold, or had the ability to get those many at short notice is not the issue. What is noteworthy, and what should anger every person of good conscience, is the brazenness of the act. It suggests that those who prey on the innocent have no fear of being punished.
That must change.
The United Nations should immediately put in place a mechanism for charging individuals who take advantage of the children of the tsunami with crimes against humanity. Child slavery is often a first step to child prostitution. In addition, the purchasers of these human beings should suffer the wrath of the international community.
The U.S. State Department has responded to the growing problem of human trafficking by issuing guidelines to minimize the removal of children from the camps where the displaced and homeless are gathering. But while requiring people who show up at the camps to register and bolstering the security for the residents are important steps, they will not dissuade profiteers. After all, the human toll from the disaster increases every day.
Young children with no where to go roam the streets, scrounging for food and seeking shelter in the ruins of buildings. And while the level of international support from governments, non-governmental organizations and volunteers has been impressive, and the monetary donations from individuals around the world unparalleled, the fact remains that children are still at greatest risk.
"This is a situation that lends itself to this kind of exploitation," UNICEF director Carol Bellamy told the Associated Press. "Our concern here is ... whether these children are frankly turned into slaves, if you will, or abused and exploited.
"They could be put to work -- domestic labor, sex trade, a whole series of potential abuses."
To be sure, adoption will become necessary, given the ever growing number of parentless and homeless youngsters. But established, legal procedures should govern the placement of the children of the tsunami.
All the acts of kindness, mercy and generosity will be diminished if even one child who survived Mother Nature's wrath becomes a victim of man's depravity.