Haiti earthquake reignites debate over fast-tracking adoptions
Haiti and the US have cut red tape in order to facilitate adoption of the hundreds of children who are believed to be orphaned by the Jan. 12 earthquake, but some argue that rushing the process could jeopardize family reunification.
The children lined up on low wooden benches at the House of God’s Children orphanage form a typical Sunday School scene: The boys poke each other and laugh, the girls whisper or wait quietly.Skip to next paragraph
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Then a young woman whose head nearly reaches the plastic tarp shading the children sets down the Bible she carries in one hand and says it’s time for the opening hymn. “Our great God blesses us,” the small voices sing in unison, “His immense charity will last through eternity.”
Now unbeknownst to them they are at the eye of a strengthening storm – one that is churning up the advocates of streamlined adoption procedures for Haiti against those who say too-hasty adoption can hurt the children and birth parents that in some cases still exist.
That debate is no newer than the issue of orphans in Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest country where dozens of only minimally regulated orphanages serve as prime alternatives for families in wealthier countries seeking to adopt.
Now the earthquake has sharpened the debate, by drawing heartstring-pulling attention to what experts estimate are thousands of new orphans left in the temblor’s wake. While numbers remain only estimates, Haitian officials say that more than 100,000 people died in the disaster.
Five-month-old Berlando puts a human face on both those staggering numbers and the orphan-adoption controversy. A resident of God’s Children for a week, Berlando was brought in by his grandmother, who could not care for him after both his parents were killed in the quake.
"They found him lying on a bed with his father, the father had died but the baby survived,” says Pierre Alexis, administrative director of God’s Children. “If the grandmother says no one in that family can care for him, we feel the child is better off here.”
As wrenching as the stories of children left with no family after the earthquake may be, they are just a new twist on a recurring story here – one often made sadder by an element of neglect.
Mr. Alexis tells of the baby that passers-by found in an adjacent rubbish-filled gully. “She had been tossed in like another bag of garbage,” he says. He points to a different girl, immobile in a crib, whose mother tried to abort her by drinking a poison.
Now Alexis and his staff sleep with the children out on the ground, the children too frightened after the earthquake to sleep inside. And he has hired new security to keep out the thieves that have tried since the quake to get at the orphanage’s meager food supplies.
Haiti and US cut red tape for adoptions
One silver lining to an otherwise terrible disaster, Alexis says, is how the quake has expedited adoptions to the US. On Saturday 80 children left God’s Children headed for their new American families, Haitian and American red tape suddenly cut.