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Thousands of Children in Sulawesi at Risk of Exploitation

A boy sits with items salvaged from the ruins of a house in the Balaroa neighborhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, Oct. 2, 2018.

The U.N. children's fund warns that tens of thousands of child survivors of the devastating earthquake and tsunami Friday in Sulawesi, Indonesia, are unprotected and vulnerable to exploitation.

UNICEF reports that children make up more than one-third of the population of Central Sulawesi, and 43 percent of the children live in poverty. In addition, many suffer from chronic malnutrition or stunting, a condition makes children more prone to disease and infection and impairs their physical and mental development.

UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac says the agency is concerned about the children who have been orphaned or separated from their parents by the disaster, which has killed more than 1,400 people and displaced 70,000 others.

"This is also a region with a low birth registration," he said. "Only 33 percent of children are registered. Birth registration is of paramount importance in terms of child protection. It is a passport to protection. This low birth registration is an issue for family tracing process ... in addition to well-known risks of exploitation and trafficking."

Children who have no birth certificate are officially invisible. They cannot access basic services, such as health, social welfare and education, and they are at increased risk of being trafficked, sexually exploited and forced into child labor.

UNICEF says it is deploying social workers to the affected areas to provide psychosocial services for separated and unaccompanied children and to trace and reunify families.

The agency is asking for $5 million to provide essential needs, including medical and health services, water and sanitation, food and non-food items, and emergency shelter.