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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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But Adam Pertman, the executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York, says that after immediate needs of food, shelter, and medical care are addressed, the world needs to act more methodically and put family reunification as a priority.

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“People haven’t separated the two elements of dealing with the crisis: the absolute immediate need to help those affected: you have to do what you have to do to save them. That is a separate question from what do we do for them in the [long-term], making a decision about the rest of their lives,” says Pertman.

He says the impulse to rescue is present in the wake of any natural disaster, including after the tsunami in Indonesia or Hurricane Katrina in the US. But he says the high-profile nature of this case could be a cautionary tale. “A lot more people were saying, ‘let’s do anything, let’s do anything,' before this [child rescue] incident occurred,” he says. “I think it was certainly a wake up call.”

Child custody disputes

Most international kidnapping cases are child-custody disputes between parents of two nationalities – such as the Sean Goldman case in Brazil, or cases of children trafficking rings, says Christopher Schmidt, a lawyer at Bryan Cave LLP in St. Louis, Mo.,who has tried and won five international abduction cases,

And criminal elements can ride the wave of a humanitarian outpouring. In this case, the Haitian government sent a powerful message to the world in detaining the Americans, regardless of their intentions, says Ms. Binford, who says she believes the missionaries could have been most helpful, not by taking the children to the neighboring Dominican Republic, but providing their families with the resources to help them rebuild safe and secure lives in Haiti.

“The Haitian government did the right thing in sending a message to everyone around the world that they are a functioning government, and they will do everything within reason to protect their children,” she says. “It was important that the Haitian government show its strength, especially to those who may have been less honorable.”

And since the judge continues to detain the group’s leader, Mr. Schmidt says Haiti “struck the right balance between showing mercy and using their discretion to let most go while pursuing the people who organized it.”

Had all members of the Idaho group been let go, anger that the group was getting a “free pass,” perhaps even because of the clout the US wields in Haiti, could have mounted. “I think the real key to remember is that it is a crime, in any country in the world, including Haiti and the US, to go to a foreign country, even if intentions are humanitarian, and to take children without consent of both parents and the government,” says Schmidt.

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