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Children of Sunderbans still bear scars of Aila havoc
Published on 25 May. 2010 9:46 PM IST
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Archia Khatun, 16, does not know Kusum, a year younger to her. Nor has she heard about 10-year-old Asma. The three have never met but they share a common destiny, scripted by Aila. The cyclone cast them as domestic helps in distant Delhi, where they became victims of physical abuse.
Archia, Kusum and Asma were brought back to Sunderbans by an NGO and are now struggling to return to a semblance of normal life a year after the deadly cyclone.
The May 25, 2009, cyclone that hit India and Bangladesh killed 138 people in West Bengal alone. The mangrove land of the Sunderbans - which runs through most of South 24-Parganas district and parts of North 24-Parganas - bore the brunt of nature’s fury. A large number of families lost means of livelihood, making the children more vulnerable to child trafficking.
Traditionally, child trafficking is an endemic problem in the Sunderbans. Adolescent girls from the area are regularly found in other countries and states working either as child labourers or sex workers.
With the worsening economic and social conditions, children are now more prone to be sent outside for commercial purposes, fear social workers.
“The child trafficking in this region after Aila has increased to a large extent. We have brought many children from different states and Kolkata back to Sunderbans and are trying to get them back to normal life,” said Manabendra Nath Roy, an official of the NGO Save the Children.
The Sunderbans agro-based economy has taken a massive pounding with sea water entering the villages, thus making the land saline and unfit for agriculture or irrigation.
“Most of the land has become saline, thus becoming unfit for irrigation and lakhs of people who survived Aila are completely without any means of livelihood,” Roy told IANS.
Another problem is that a large number of children has stopped attending school due to economic reasons. For many others, going to school has become a thing of the past as the school buildings are damaged. “The situation in the Sunderbans after one year of Aila has improved only a bit. Most of the damaged school buildings are yet to be built. Some of the schools which were not damaged are without teachers,” said Tushar Kanjilal, secretary of the Tagore Society for Rural Development, an NGO working in the Sunderbans.
“The children of that region are living in a poor condition. Lot more needs to be done to bring them back to normal life,” Kanjilal told IANS. Aila ravaged about 22,000 homes and affected about two lakh people living in the Sundarbans delta. Of the nearly 3,500 km of embankements, about 750 km were destroyed in the cyclone.

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