10 Americans arrested for abduction in Haiti

Isobel - posted on 02/02/2010 ( 3 moms have responded )

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Some 'Orphan Rescue' Children May Have Parents
Updated: 1 day 6 hours ago
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Frank Bajak and Paisley Dodds
AP
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Feb. 1) -- The arrest of 10 Americans for trying to take children out of Haiti has raised an uncomfortable question in this brutally poor and earthquake-devastated country: could some children be better off abroad under the grim circumstances?

The Baptists from Idaho were waiting Monday to hear if they will be tried on child trafficking charges for attempting to take 33 Haitian children to the Dominican Republic without official authorization.

Child welfare groups expressed outrage over Friday's attempt, saying some of the children had parents who survived the Jan. 12 earthquake. Prime Minister Max Bellerive denounced the group's "illegal trafficking of children" in a country long afflicted by the scourge and by foreign meddling.
A boy who was part of the group of children that U.S. Baptists were trying to take out of Haiti.
Andres Leighton, AP
Children play at an orphanage run by Austrian-based SOS Children's Villages in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday. The boy in the center was part of a group of children that American citizens were trying to take out of Haiti. The piece of pink tape on his shirt previously had his name written on it.

But the reality is that some struggling Haitian parents see adoption as a last-ditch hope for their children.

"My parents died in the earthquake. My husband has gone. Giving up one of my kids would at least give them a chance," Saintanne Petit-Frere, 40, a mother of six living outside in a tent camp near the airport said Sunday. "My only fear is that they would forget me, but that wouldn't affect my decision."

The Baptists' "Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission" was described as an effort to save abandoned, traumatized children. Their plan was to scoop up 100 kids and take them by bus to a 45-room hotel at Cabarete, a beach resort in the Dominican Republic. The 33 kids ranged in age from 2 months to 12 years.

They were stopped at the border for not having proper paperwork and taken back to Port-au-Prince, where the children were taken to a temporary children's home.

Haiti's justice secretary, Amarick Louis, told The Associated Press that a commission would meet Monday to determine if the group would go before a judge. The group was being held at a building where government ministers are giving regular briefings - a maze of dingy concrete rooms but not traditional cells. Their living conditions were unclear.

Foreigners adopting children from the developing world have grabbed headlines recently - Madonna tried to adopt a girl from Malawi amid criticism from locals, while Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have a burgeoning multicultural brood.

But in Haiti, a long tradition of foreign military intervention coupled with the earthquake that destroyed much of the capital and plunged it even deeper into poverty, have made this issue even more emotionally charged.

"Some parents I know have already given their children to foreigners," said Adonis Helman, 44. "I've been thinking how I will choose which one I may give."

Haiti's overwhelmed government has halted all adoptions unless they were in motion before the earthquake amid fears that parentless or lost children are more vulnerable than ever to being seized and sold. Sex trafficking has been rampant in Haiti.

Without proper documents and concerted efforts to track down their parents, children could be forever separated from family members able and willing to care for them. Bellerive's personal authorization is now required for the departure of any child.

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"For UNICEF, what is important is that for children separated from their parents, we do everything possible to have their families traced and to reunite them," said Kent Page, a spokesman for the group in Haiti. "They have to be protected from traffickers or people who wish to exploit these children."

He said it was possible the Americans arrested may have had "good intentions but misguided execution."

The Idaho church group's spokeswoman, Laura Silsby, told the AP from detention that the group was "just trying to do the right thing" amid the chaos. She conceded she had not obtained the proper Haitian documents for the children.

The children were taken to an orphanage run by Austrian-based SOS Children's Villages, where spokesman George Willeit said they arrived "very hungry, very thirsty." A 2- to 3-month-old baby was dehydrated and had to be hospitalized, he said. Workers were searching for their families or close relatives.

"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," Willeit said.

As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti is in a difficult spot - it needs aid, but deeply resents foreign meddling. Many have mixed feelings toward Christian groups that funnel hundreds of millions into missions in Haiti.
Americans arrested in Haiti
Ramon Espinosa, AP
American citizens are shown at a police station in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, after they were detained by Haitian police as they tried to bus 33 children across the border into the Dominican Republic.

Christian missionaries alone run or support an estimated 2,000 primary schools attended by some 600,000 students - a third of Haiti's school-aged population, according to government figures. Church groups also run vital hospitals, orphanages and food-distribution sites.

"There are many who come here with religious ideas that belong more in the time of the inquisition," said Max Beauvoir, head of Haiti's Voodoo Priest's Association, which represents thousands of priests and priestesses. "These types of people believe they need to save our souls and our bodies from ourselves. We need compassion, not proselytizing now, and we need aid - not just aid going to people of the Christian faith."

Two-thirds of Haiti's 9 million are said to practice Voodoo, a melange of beliefs combining animism from west Africa and Catholicism.

Many religious groups run legitimate adoption agencies and orphanages in Haiti.

The arrested Americans include members of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, and the East Side Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho. They are part of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is America's largest Protestant denomination and has extensive humanitarian programs worldwide.

The Idaho churches had elaborate plans before the earthquake to shelter up to 200 Haitian and Dominican boys and girls in the Magante beach resort, complete with a school and chapel as well as villas and a seaside cafe catering to adoptive U.S. parents.
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What do we think of this?

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Isobel - posted on 02/02/2010

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I know they had a HUGE problem with human trafficking in the Philippines and area after the tsunami. I certainly hope that they have the best of intentions, but I don't know...it seems like it would be really easy to pose as missionaries to steal bus loads of children.

[deleted account]

Yeah good intentions, but where was the common sense? They are not government officials and they do not have paperwork so did they really think they were going to get these kids into the Dominican? Didn't the missionaries have to have passports to get into the country? How did they think they could get kids out of the country without passports?

On the other hand why is the Haitian government suddenly concerned with human trafficking? Hasn't child slaverly been going on in that country forever and what have they ever done about it before? I think the government needs to take a bigger stand against it, but why now?

Its all fishy on both sides.

Michelle - posted on 02/02/2010

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Wow. I agree with the statement made in the middle of the article-- good intentions (hopefully) but poor execution.



The assumption from these Baptists (which, given the circumstances, is an easy one to jump to) is that the kids' families can not care for them properly. However, regardless of whether or not we, in more prosperous countries, feel that they care well cared for, children can thrive in much harsher conditions than we think, and sometimes what really matters is that they are with a family who truly loves them.



I think that the Baptists were being a little harsh in their judgment, and had they waited for the proper paperwork to go through, they would have been able to ensure that all of the children NEEDED to be taken out of the country, which is really the whole point of the paperwork anyway.

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