American church group arrested on Haitian border accused of abducting children
Ten members of an American Baptist Church are to appear in a Haitian court this morning after being accused of running an illegal adoption scheme.
The group from Idaho said that they were carrying out a rescue mission and had accompanied more than 30 children as part of a plan to take at least 100 orphans out of Port-au-Prince to an orphanage that they run in the neighbouring Dominican Republic.
It was claimed last night that most of the children had living relatives and did not appear to know where they were going.
A government official described the group’s action as an “abduction”.
The controversy came as the UN mounted a massive food distribution effort to feed two million people in Port-au-Prince. Nearly three weeks after the earthquake, the World Food Programme said that it would open 16 fixed collection sites, with only women allowed access.
The Idaho group, who are being held at the judicial police headquarters in the capital, said that their intentions were honourable and that they had gained access to the children through a well-known Haitian pastor.
Laura Silsby, the group’s spokeswoman, said: “In this chaos the Government is in right now, we were just trying to do the right thing.”
She said that the group had documents from the Dominican Governmen but did not seek any paperwork from the Haitian authorities, adding that only those without close family would be considered for adoption.
Yves Christallin, the Haitian Social Affairs Minister, said that they did not appear to have the proper documentation or authorisation for the children, and accused the group, who belong to a charity called the New Life Children’s Refuge, of more sinister motives. “This is an abduction, not an adoption,” he said.
The children, aged from a few months to 12, seemed to have little idea where they were being taken when The Times met them, with some saying that they had parents in Haiti.
George Willeit, of SOS Children’s Village, a care centre on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince where the children are now staying, told The Times: “What we know is that some of these children still have their parents. There was an older girl, aged 8 or 9, and she was crying and saying, ‘I’m not an orphan. I still have my parents’. This girl was thinking that she was going to a summer camp or boarding school. She didn’t know what was happening to her. “One of the babies was completely dehydrated. She was not able to drink. It looks like this was because she was used to drinking from her mother’s breast. We had the Red Cross here and we had to immediately take this baby to the hospital.”
The SOS Children’s Village includes a school and small houses where groups of children are raised by allocated “mothers”. One of them, Jusane Hasie Agath, 40, was looking after five of the children. “They are all OK now,” she said. “This baby has a fever, she came in last night. There is one who says he knows his family but we don’t yet know if it’s true or not.”
Many children in Haitian orphanages have living relatives but have been abandoned because they cannot be cared for. “There were 380,000 children living in orphanages before the earthquake,” Deborah Barry, a child protection adviser for Save the Children, said. “The majority of them were there for economic reasons rather than because they didn’t have family.”
The Government has limited the number of adoptions amid fears that parentless or lost children are more vulnerable than ever to child trafficking. “By no means are we any part of that. That’s exactly what we are trying to combat,” said Ms Silsby.
The Americans include members of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, and the Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, as well as people from Texas and Kansas.
The group described their plans on a website where they also asked for contributions, saying that they would “gather” 100 orphans and take them by bus to the Dominican resort of Cabarete, before building a more permanent orphanage in Magante.
“Given the urgent needs from this earthquake, God has laid upon our hearts the need to go now versus waiting until the permanent facility is built,” the group wrote. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article7009970.ece