Eva C. Komandjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Although many people have expressed willingness to adopt Acehnese orphans who lost their parents in the devastating tsunami disaster a week ago, the government has temporarily prohibited the adoption of the homeless children.
""We have decided not to allow the adoption of Acehnese children temporarily in a bid to avoid controversy and possible trafficking cases,"" Minister of Social Affairs Bachtiar Chamsyah said on Tuesday. Adoption of Acehnese orphans could be a sensitive matter as it often involves the issues of ethnicity and religion.
He said the ban followed an agreement between the government and Acehnese community associations in North Sumatra and in Jakarta to take care of some 35,000 children left orphaned or separated from their families after the tsunami that inundated Aceh and North Sumatra.
Earlier, director for child protection at the Ministry of Social Affairs Makmur Sanusi said that Acehnese children were not allowed to be adopted unless it confirmed beyond any doubt that they had lost all of their relatives.
Many homeless children are currently being placed in orphanages and Islamic boarding schools (pesantren) in Medan and other towns across Sumatra island, while some others are being taken care of by other Acehnese families.
Support for the temporary ban came from Ciptaningsih Utaryo, who chairs the Sayap Ibu Foundation -- one of the five child foundations authorized by the government to handle adoptions in the country.
She argued that these orphaned children needed to mingle with their peers in orphanages or pesantren to help them overcome the trauma they experienced before being adopted.
Sayap Ibu is preparing several orphanages with a capacity to accommodate around 2,000 children, Ciptaningsih said.
""The children need a quiet and peaceful environment after having experienced such nightmares. The last thing they need is to try to adapt to a new environment, such as being adopted by a different family,"" she told The Jakarta Post.
""When adopted, a child needs to adjust to a completely new environment including new family members. It can be a very difficult process if he or she is above five years old because it takes longer to adapt,"" Ciptaningsih added.
""Besides, who knows, these children may just have been separated from their parents, and they may be reunited once the situation returns to normal,"" Ciptaningsih said.
She explained that the adoption process could take a long time and is very complicated since the matter goes through the courts.
""It could take a year before the whole process is over, especially with Acehnese children, who have lost their birth certificates and other documents in the disaster,"" Ciptaningsih added.
""Temporary care for them in orphanages or pesantren is fine, but adoption is definitely not an option at the moment,"" she said.
Apart from individuals, several organizations are ready to help accommodate Acehnese children who were left orphaned or separated from their parents on Dec. 26.
The country's largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said it has prepared at least 14 pesantren to accommodate some 1,000 orphans from the tsunami-hit areas in Aceh and North Sumatra.
""Our pesantren across Aceh are ready to accommodate 1,000 children and wish to provide education for them. If only the government would allow us to bring the children out from Aceh, we are ready to provide more places for more than 5,000 children,"" NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi was quoted by Antara as saying on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, there has been one confirmed case of a child being smuggled out of Aceh to Medan, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), AFP reported.
UNICEF spokesman for Indonesia, John Budd, said that the Malaysian office had received a message advertising that 300 orphans from Aceh, aged between three and 10, could be bought.
However, National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Paiman said that so far the police had not found any cases of child trafficking in Aceh.