- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2004

BAM, Iran — They were found Friday, quietly watching the first-aid flights arriving at the Bam airport, 10 miles outside the earthquake-obliterated Iranian city.

They were Azam, Pari and Aslan, two girls and one boy, apparently brother and sisters.

But what the three mentally disabled children were doing there, where they had come from and whether their parents were dead or alive, they couldn’t say.

Azam, about 12, smiles nervously at Bam’s half-demolished reception center for lost children, as distracted Red Crescent workers rush about.

Unnoticed, she starts trembling and, as the spasms grow violent, topples onto the rubble-strewn ground.

An aid worker pauses by the child and takes her hand. Azam looks up, smiling lovingly, and the seizure abruptly ends.

Almost certainly orphaned, practically defenseless, Azam and her siblings are among the most wretched of Bam’s victims.

Yet the city’s able-minded children scarcely are better off. Of Bam’s 40,000 children, probably half died in the quake, which is estimated to have claimed up to 50,000 lives.

The survivors include thousands of orphans, many of whom also have lost most of their extended families.

“The pain these children are experiencing is almost unimaginable,” said Brendan Paddy of Save the Children. “In one blow, thousands of them have been killed, injured, orphaned. Children are always the most vulnerable, and these children are practically helpless.”

None more so than a 4-year-old boy who wandered into a village outside Bam over the weekend, according to Red Crescent workers in Bam. The child was crying, too traumatized to speak.

Marjan Rezvam, 13, is just a little better off. Her parents, older sister and two older brothers were killed in the quake. But, from another house, one of her aunts survived.

“She was my niece, but now she is my daughter,” said Fatima Rezvam, 36, whose eldest son also was killed. “We will stay here together near the graves of our relatives, and we will build another house.”

But Marjan can’t stop crying. She misses her family, and especially her brothers who died saving her life.

“They woke me up when the house was shaking and threw me out the door,” Marjan sobs. “Then everything collapsed before they could get out, too.”

How many of Bam’s children survived the cataclysm, how many were orphaned and where they are is still unknown.

Foreign aid workers arriving in the city as the rescue teams leave have noticed remarkably few children among the tents and rubble of the town.

“There’s a striking absence of children about the place. There are very few on the streets with the rest of the survivors,” Mr. Paddy said.

“We urgently need to find out where they are and what’s being done for them. This is our absolute priority here.”

At the Red Crescent’s reception center, Dr. Bahram Moosavi Niya has a simple explanation for the absence of children.

“Most of them are dead,” he said.

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