Protecting Haitian children from harm, inadvertent or deliberate [Addendum]
It is not clear that this is a case in which good intentions, uninterrupted, would have had no adverse consequences. A great deal was at stake for the children in the arrest of 10 Southern Baptists as they attempted to take 33 Haitian children to the Dominican Republic on a bus, Friday.
Those children were subsequently taken to an orphanage run by Austrian-based SOS Children’s Villages, where spokesman George Willeit said:
One (8-year-old) girl was crying, and saying, ‘I am not an orphan. I still have my parents.’ And she thought she was going on a summer camp or a boarding school or something like that.
He also said the children, ages 2 months to 12 years-old, were “very hungry, very thirsty.”
A 2- to 3-month old baby was dehydrated and had to be hospitalized, he said.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told ABC News that some of the children were not orphans and were asking about their parents.
“The instinct to swoop in and rescue children may be a natural impulse but it cannot be the solution for the tens of thousands of children left vulnerable by the Haiti earthquake,” Deb Barry, a protection expert at Save the Children, told The Associated Press on Sunday. Her group wants a moratorium on new adoptions. “The possibility of a child being scooped up and mistakenly labeled an orphan in the chaotic aftermath of the disaster is incredibly high.”
Statements by the arrested group’s spokesman suggest that allegations that the group was “falsely arrested” were misguided. Specifically, according to the Associated Press, speaking for those arrested in Haiti Friday, Laura Silsby “admitted she had not obtained the proper Haitian documents for the children, whose names were written on pink tape on their shirts.”
Haiti declared last week that no new adoptions could take place without the Prime Minister’s express permission. “The government has given very clear instructions for everything concerning adoptions of children,” said public security secretary Amarick Louis in an interview with Canada’s Globe and Mail. “Everything must be done in a formal manner, following the norms that have been established.”
Five of the 10 Americans arrested were reportedly members of the Central Valley Baptist Church at 600 N. Ten Mile Rd., Meridian, ID, which posted on its Web site a “News Update” which said:
A ten member church team traveled to Haiti to help rescue children from one or more orphanages that had been devastated in the earthquake on January 12. The children were being taken to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic where they could be cared for and have their medical and emotional needs attended to. Our team was falsely arrested today and we are doing everything we can from this end to clear up the misunderstanding that has occurred in Port au Prince.
Senior Pastor Clint Henry of Central Valley Baptist Church said:
They’ve been charged with child trafficking. You need to understand that obviously those are serious charges, but they’re in a nation where this has been a practice, a wicked and evil practice.
Central Valley is affiliated with the Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Convention [.pdf], which is headquartered in Draper, UT.
The case is to go before a judge on Monday.
The reasons for action are clear. The U.S. State Department issued a cautionary statement on Jan. 26 which addresses the general issue:
In the aftermath of a crisis such as the Haiti earthquake, children are especially vulnerable; and there is increased potential for abuse of, and trafficking in, children. The United States remains committed to working with the Government of Haiti to implement safeguards to protect children and their families in Haiti.
UNICEF is taking the most constructive approach. In a January 19 statement, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said, about unaccompanied (not necessarily orphaned) children in Haiti: “Every effort will be made to reunite children with their families. Only if that proves impossible, and after proper screening has been carried out, should permanent alternatives like adoption be considered by the relevant authorities. Screening for international adoption for some Haitian children had been completed prior to the earthquake. Where this is the case, there are clear benefits to speeding up their travel to their new homes.”
That approach keeps families together when that is possible, reduces the likelihood of inadvertent harm and helps make it more difficult for child traffickers to take advantage of a natural catastrophe to prey on children.
Plan Canada President and CEO Rosemary McCarney says she’s not sure if the accused were attempting to engage in child trafficking. But even if they weren’t, just by taking the children away, they could do them more harm than good.
“Whether this is trafficking or not, it puts children at risk,” McCarney told Canada AM from Toronto. “Because even well-intentioned people who remove children from their communities and their country, by crossing borders, it makes it almost impossible for us to track them and find their parents and extended families and caring adults who could take care of these children.”
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