PETALING JAYA: Ensuring that the children affected by the earthquake in Nepal are safe and cared for is the most important job for Unicef at present.
Unicef Malaysia chief of fundraising and partnerships Richard Beighton said that it is estimated that 2.8 million children are affected by the recent Kathmandu earthquake.
“Nepal has a very young population – over 40% of the population of Nepal are children, which is higher than the average country.
“(For those affected), even if they do not lose family members, it will be traumatic for them,” said Beighton in an interview with The Star Online on Tuesday.
He painted a dire picture of the situation on the ground, especially concerning shelters.
“Thousands of people are sleeping out in the open at night.
“It is still cold in Nepal and Kathmandu is at a high altitude – so it is very cold and there has also been a lot of heavy rain in the region. “It is cold, it is wet, and some people are still unable to access shelters,” he said.
He explained that Unicef’s priority is to locate children who lost or are separated from their parents or guardians.
“Unicef and other agencies on the ground are running a program to reunite children with their families.
“In terms of child protection, this is always our primary objective because a child alone is always vulnerable both to natural conditions, such as in providing for themselves, and to other abuses,” he said.
He said that Unicef plans to open child-friendly places in the affected areas as a mean to help the children recover from the trauma resulting from the earthquake.
“Child-friendly places are important – sometimes it sounds a bit strange, but it is really important for the children affected to be given some kind of normality.
“A space to meet other kids, to meet our staff who are trained to give support, and to just talk to each other,” he explained, adding that the child-friendly places will also help bond the affected communities together and will help in identifying children who are separated from their parents or guardians through the assistance of the communities.
He said that it is also important for the children to start their education, which has been disrupted by the tragedy.
“One reason we want to get education back up and running so fast is not only because education is vital.
It is also because it provides a framework to the children’s day and it is important for them to get back to some kind of normality,” he said.
He added that Unicef would be working on a ‘Back to school’ campaign to ensure that the affected children return to the school environment.