US missionaries: Lessons from Haiti adoption or 'child kidnapping' case
Experts in child kidnapping and global adoption hope that the Haiti incident involving American Baptist missionaries provides lessons for future disasters.
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The case divided the world in two camps: those who saw the Americans as potential child traffickers and those who saw them as do-gooders unfairly punished for trying to help victims of the earthquake.
Now that they are free, experts in kidnapping and global adoption hope that the incident provides lessons about caution and patience in future disasters.
“There is a universal urge to help children. That universal urge is so much more powerful when children are in a crisis,” says W. Warren Binford, an assistant professor of law and an expert on international children's rights at Willamette University College of Law in Oregon. But this case shows, she says, how “important it is not to act on those instincts, without considering the long-term consequences.”
Eight of 10 missionaries, who largely come from two Baptist churches in Idaho and were arrested for trying to take 33 Haitian children to the Dominican Republic on Jan. 29 without the right paperwork, were freed Wednesday without posting bail, after a judge decided theirs was not criminal intent. "The parents of the kids made statements proving that they can be released," Judge Bernard Saint-Vil told the Associated Press.
The church members claimed initially that the children were abandoned or orphaned, but it was later learned that many of them had families who gave them to the group with hopes of a better life. Their case was also marred by revelations that a man who acted as their legal adviser is wanted on charges in El Salvador, including for human trafficking, and the US. He has denied those charges.
While the eight flew to Miami Wednesday evening, the judge continues to hold the group’s leader, Laura Silsby, as well as nanny Charisa Coulter. The judge reportedly wants to question them about a previous trip to Haiti, prior to the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Family reunification over adoption
The devastating quake that struck Haiti left up to 200,000 people dead, and in the days afterward, television screens across the globe flashed images of tearful, disoriented children, living in squalid camps throughout the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. Those images drew an outpouring of support. Many foreigners opened their wallets, or volunteered to be medics. Many also felt a desire to adopt Haitian children.