Haiti kidnapping case: Americans could be released today

Ten Americans charged with child kidnapping after attempting to take 33 children out of Haiti could be released as early as today. The case has shone a spotlight on the plight of Haitian orphans, many of whom end up in virtual slavery.

St Felix Evens/Reuters
US missionaries accused of kidnapping Haitian children, including leader Laura Silsby (r.) leave a Judicial Police office in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday.

The anticipated release as early as today of 10 Americans charged in Haiti with child kidnapping would resolve the legal imbroglio the American missionaries touched off when they attempted to take 33 children out of the earthquake-ravaged country without authorization.

It would do nothing to address the plight of the children involved in the case, however, at least some of whom were given up to the Americans by parents who believed the foreign missionaries’ promise of providing the children a better life.

A court resolution would also dim the spotlight the case has trained for two weeks on the precarious existence not only on Haiti’s sizable orphan population, but on much of the country’s child population in general. Indeed some experts in children’s issues believe the Haitian government, which some say initially saw the case as a means of impressing upon a watching world that the rule of law was operating in the country, now wants the case and the attention it has drawn to Haiti’s children to go away.

The judge in the Americans’ case was reportedly ready to release the 10, jailed in Haiti since their arrest Jan. 29, as early as today after having found no criminal intent in their actions. “One thing an investigating judge seeks in a criminal investigation is criminal intentions on the part of the people involved, and there is nothing that shows that criminal intention on the part of the Americans,” a Haitian judicial source told Reuters.

The Americans – led by Laura Silsby of Meridian, Idaho, and in most cases associated with the town’s Central Valley Baptist Church – have said they intended to take the children to live in an orphanage they were planning to establish in next door Dominican Republic. Ms. Silsby originally claimed all the children involved came either from orphanages or from distant family members who said they could not care for them. But subsequent investigations revealed that a majority of the 33 children came from one village decimated by the Jan. 12 quake, and that many of them had at least one parent still living.

Both the Americans and some of the children’s parents appeared before the judge Wednesday.

The case of the 10 Americans led to two weeks of media focus on Haiti’s numerous orphanages, many of which were severely damaged in the 7.0 magnitude temblor. Even before the quake, many children living in orphanages had at least one parent, or in other cases grandparents, who gave the children up, saying they could not care for them. The case also drew attention to Haiti’s restaveks, children – as many as 300,000 by some estimates – who are given up to work as servants and laborers for the country’s elites, and who live in virtual slavery.

Now, if the Americans are gone, will that spotlight go dark?

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