Fathers abandon children

Sikkal, India

After Devinya's mother was washed away her father told the 10-year-old and her two brothers to fend for themselves.

"My father told me to go," was all Devinya could say, sitting sadly at a new orphanage that opened on Monday in the south Indian town of Sikkal.

The Tamil Nadu state government opened the centre for children left without parents after the disaster.

But 18 of the 22 who arrived on the first day still had one surviving parent. Some had mothers with no work: others said their fathers were alcoholics.

"My father is a drunk and a gambler," said Murugeswari, 14, holding her sister Rajeswari, 5, tightly by the hand. "He used to make a lot of money from fishing, but lost everything to his bad habits. Now that the waves have taken our livelihood, he has lost all ability to support us."

Most affected families in the region, including Murugeswari's hamlet of Nambiar Nagar, are fisherfolk whose livelihoods are tied to the sea.

Naveena, 14, said her father's drinking habits left little money for her mother, Lakshmi, to run the house. Lakshmi died in the tsunami.

"If I stay with my father, I won't be able to go to school. That's why I came here." Ramya, 13, said her father had a heart disease and could not work. Joining the orphanage was her only option after her mother was swept away.

Raman Thangavelu, of the Tamil Nadu social welfare department, said orphanages in India do sometimes take in children of single parents if they have no means to support their offspring.

"Now the tsunami has left many single parents without any livelihood," Mr Thangavelu said.

For sisters Shantha, 15, and Shanthini, 10, it was their mother who sent them away.

"Our mother used to sell fish. Now there is no fish to sell, she is not sure how she can feed us and send us to school," Shantha said.

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