Fact Check

Tsunami Orphans for Sale Hoax

Are children orphaned by the Indian Ocean tsunami being offered for sale via SMS messages?

Published Jan 10, 2005

Claim:   Children orphaned by the Indian Ocean tsunami are being offered for sale via SMS messages.

Status:   Undetermined.

Origins:   One

Cell phone

unfortunate aspect of large-scale disasters is that they not only bring out the best in people, spawning numerous acts of charity, kindness, and selfless devotion to assisting those in need, but they also bring out the darker elements of society: those who seize such opportunities to take advantage of others.

Most swindlers merely seek to deprive victims of their money and property, but sometimes con men aim for what is perhaps an even worse target: preying upon people's emotions and humanity. Such is the case in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, as some unknown villains have been offering orphans for sale via advertisements sent out through SMS (i.e., brief text messages which can be sent and received via handheld and mobile phones).

According to an Agence France Presse report:

UNICEF's Malaysian office had received an SMS advertising 300 orphans from Aceh aged between three and 10 who could be bought.

"Three hundred orphans aged three to 10 years from Aceh for adoption. All paperwork will be taken care of. No fee. Please state age and sex of child required," the message read. A phone number provided in the SMS could not be reached, connecting only to a voice mail.

(Aceh is an Indonesian territory located on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra.)

Although the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has reported that Acehnese children who were orphaned or separated from their parents by the tsunami are being kidnapped and smuggled out of Indonesia by child traffickers to be sold to adoptive parents in Malaysia (and other neighboring Asian countries), officials have not yet found any evidence that the perpetrators of the SMS messages offering orphans for sale are actually connected to such activities. The Agence France Presse article noted that police believe the messages to be a hoax:

Mobile phone text messages seeking financial aid for Acehnese orphans made homeless by last month's tsunamis and offering them up for adoption are possibly a hoax, Malaysian police said.

"So far, our preliminary investigations found that no children are offered for sale. We think the messages are a hoax," Deputy Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan told AFP.

Likewise, the Malay Mail reported on 9 January 2005 that:

Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Musa Hassan said Federal police are still trying to trace the origin of the short messaging system (SMS) messages which has been spreading like wildfire, offering tsunami victims, mainly orphans and babies, for adoption.

He said that so far, no report has been received on the existence of such a syndicate although rumours have been spreading since early this week.

Whether the reprobates behind these "orphans for sale" messages are actually selling children or just trying to yank people's chains, their acts are despicable, and we join many others in hoping they're soon apprehended and punished appropriately.

Last updated:   10 January 2005


  Sources Sources:

    Ghani, Azman Abdul.   "Baby Smuggling: Police Investigate Claims."

    The Malay Mail.   9 January 2005.

    Agence France Presse.   "Orphans-for-Sale SMS a Hoax: Police."

    Borneo Bulletin Online.   7 January 2005.

    Cihan News Agency.   "UNICEF: Child Traffickers on the Job in South Asia."

    Zaman Online.   10 January 2005.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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