‘Trafficked’ Haitian children not orphans
By Lisa Millar for The World Today
Members of the charity New Life Children’s Refuge have been charged with child trafficking.
A young girl allegedly targeted by an American church group engaged in a child trafficking operation in quake-hit Haiti says she thought she was being taken to a summer camp.
Ten members of American Baptist church group New Life Children’s Refuge were arrested and charged with child trafficking overnight as they attempted to take 33 children out of the country.
But the group says they were only trying to rescue abandoned and traumatised children.
The children are now in an orphanage while officials try to locate their families, and one of the girls told George Willeit from the SOS Children’s Village in Haiti that she thought she was being taken to a summer camp.
“We will reunite them with their parents or with their relatives because we already know that some of these children still have parents,” Mr Willeit said.
“An elder girl, maybe eight or nine years old, told us crying ‘I am not an orphan. I do have my parents. I thought I am going to a boarding school or to a summer camp. We don’t know exactly – to the Dominican Republic. I do have my parents.’”
Haitian officials have imposed new controls on adoptions since the earthquake because of fears that the disaster would leave children open to exploitation.
Orphanages were destroyed in the earthquake and many of the children who were living there were not actually orphans but had been left by families who could not afford to care for them.
The Haitian Government has halted many types of adoptions but is worried even legitimate aid groups have flown young earthquake survivors out of the country before every effort could be made to find their parents.
Now only the country’s prime minister can authorise the departure of any child.
The Americans will face their first hearing tomorrow and spokeswoman Laura Silsby says the group was simply trying to rescue the young earthquake survivors.
“In the course of the time frame we had them with us … the entire team deeply fell in love with these children,” she said.
“They are very, very precious kids that have lost their homes and their families and are so deeply in need of, most of all, God’s love and his compassion and just a very nurturing setting.”
The group’s website describes the Haitian orphan rescue mission. It says they were taking the children by bus across the border to the Dominican Republic where a hotel was being turned into an orphanage.
Ms Silsby says the group simply did not have the right documents.
“The mistake obviously we made is we did not understand that there was additional paperwork required,” she said.
The pastor at the Idaho Baptist Church where at least five of the group worship, Clint Henry, says it is disappointing his church has been dragged into the controversy.
“I know there has been illegal activity that has been going on down there. It is unfortunate that we would be associated with that,” he said.
A spokesman for Unicef in Haiti, Kent Page, says he is amazed the Americans thought their actions were acceptable.
“You can’t just go and take a child out of a country no matter what country you’re in. This is not what is done,” he said.
“There are processes that need to be followed. You can’t just pick up a child and walk out of the country with the child, clearly, no matter what your best intentions are.”
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