Sendai: Authorities in Japan have launched a massive hunt for hundreds of quake-hit orphan children in Iwate. It witnessed maximum deaths in the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami on March 11 which left thousands dead and many missing.

Initially, the child welfare experts will work in groups of three and search children who lost their parents in the quake. 

If the experts find children who have no place to go, they will be handed over to temporary care homes at child consultation centres or host parents. 

But those temporary care homes and regular homes for children are running at full capacity in various parts of the country, say a report. 

Due to the large scale of destruction, efforts of child welfare official may be hindered. Child welfare specialists came from various parts of the country for this mission under the initiative of the Japanese Central government.

Search efforts moved into full swing on Saturday in Iwate Prefecture, one of the three prefectures that suffered the heaviest tolls, the report said.

In Iwate, 17 specialists including psychologists and child minders from nurseries in Hokkaido, Aomori, Akita, Tokyo and Kanagawa have arrived.

They met local counterparts and started their hunt in the cities of Kamaishi, Ofunato and Rikuzentakata and the town of Otsuchi.

"It is a scale (of work) unimaginable but we hope to do as much as we possibly can," said Akira Katsusawa, the head of the Yokohama central child consultation centre.

The Iwate prefectural government is considering asking the Central government to build a boarding school if there are many children who have no one else to rely on.

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said it had some information about children having lost their parents in the disaster areas that it had not been able to follow up on.

In the aftermath of the Great Hanshin earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 in January 1995, 68 children, aged below 18, were left orphaned. There were 332 others who lost one parent.

The March 11 quake in northeastern Japan is believed to have left more children parentless, given its magnitude was far greater at 9.0 and the quake was followed by the gigantic tsunami from the Pacific that wreaked havoc on a wide coastal region.

Over 10,000 people were killed and 17,500 are still missing in the March 11 disaster.

"It was an early morning earthquake when children were with their parents and heavy damage was limited to certain areas," said a Hyogo prefectural official.
"Schools were also operating (soon after the quake) and we could gather information quickly".

The March 11 quake occurred in the afternoon, when many children would have been at school, away from their parents.

Yasuo Matsubara, who teaches theories in child welfare at Meiji Gakuin University, noted the need for providing ample psychiatric care, saying, "If children are left in a condition without knowing where their parents may be, many of them will be psychologically unstable".
"What they need is a place to live in peace and adults who will be with them when they need them," he said.

(Agencies)