Monday, February 01, 2010

Mission from Idaho accused of trafficking children out of Haiti

A mission from Idaho is accused of child trafficking after taking a group of Haitian children across the border to the Dominican Republic without proper authority.

The goal of Idaho's "Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission" was to give children who had been traumatized by the Haiti earthquake over to adoption by American parents. However, child rights advocates say the groups effort was misguided for some of the children still had parents that were alive and well.

The story raises the issue of whether some Haitian children are better off elsewhere even with alive parents. From this Associated Press story that we found at WSAV, writer Frank Bajak looks into the issue.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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