Why 27 Haiti orphans, adopted by US parents, are stuck in Haiti

The Haiti government, concerned about child trafficking, has stalled adoptions of orphans in the wake of the earthquake.

A group of 27 Haitian orphans – with documents in order and the blessings of the US government to travel to their adoptive American families – have been stopped from leaving by the Haitian government.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Marc Bellerive decided Jan. 22 that even children granted “humanitarian parole” by the US government in order to expedite their departure from Haiti’s post-earthquake disaster will have to complete an exit process with the prime minister’s office.

But the new process has yet to be defined. For now, the 27 adoptive families in the US who had thought they would be united with their children are still waiting.

“We thought these children would be with their families by now, but the government decided for some reason that they have more requirements,” says Franckis Alexis, who helps run the Maison des Enfants de Dieu (House of God’s Children), the Port-au-Prince orphanage where the 27 children live.

The Haitian government halted the adoptions even as it faces what is arguably Haiti’s biggest crisis in its history. The government’s decision to slow the adoption process is especially galling to adoption advocates in the US and in Haiti since it comes as millions of Haitian children face such adversities as deteriorating living conditions, exposure to disease, and lost schooling as a result of the quake.

At the same time, the Haitian government faces a chorus of warnings from some domestic and international child advocates who say the aftermath of such disasters is often a time of increased child-trafficking. The risk of designating as “orphans” children who are merely separated from their family is also greater, some child advocates say.

Indeed, stories are multiplying in Port-au-Prince of children who are already landing in orphanages even though it is not certain that their parents or other family members perished.

In a statement issued Wednesday by the State Department in Haiti, the US government said it is “seeking to expedite the departure of children approved for humanitarian parole so they may be united with their U.S. adoptive parents.”

But the US was also careful not sound critical of the Haitian government’s decision, saying the US government recognizes that “in the aftermath of a crisis such as the Haiti earthquake, children are especially vulnerable,” and that there is “an increased potential for abuse of, and trafficking in, children.”

US approves 500 adoptions

The US says it has approved 500 Haitian orphans for “humanitarian parole,” 200 of whom are already with the American families.
Kim Harmon, president of For His Glory Adoption Outreach in Garland, Texas, says her organization was saddened by the last-minute decision, but not surprised.

“The process is constantly changing,” says Ms. Harmon, who is among the adoptive parents whose child was in the group of 27 children stopped from leaving Haiti. “Six months ago, you didn’t have to have both parents appear before a judge, but now you do.”

The requirement to appear before a judge in Haiti raises new questions for the adoptive families over when they might expect to receive their children, since the Haitian courts were severely disrupted by the earthquake.

What Haiti courts?

At the God’s Children orphanage, Mr. Alexis says, “We see how many courts and judicial offices fell in the earthquake, and we wonder how judges will be able to hold hearings with adoptive parents any time soon.”

Alexis says officials of Haitian social services visited the orphanage Sunday, accompanied by representatives of UNICEF, the UN’s children advocacy organization. “They were pretty angry,” he says, “they were accusing us of trafficking children.” The God’s Children orphanage received considerable attention in US media last week after several members of Congress intervened to help expedite the departure from Haiti of 80 of its orphans.

Still, Alexis says the controversy is not stopping the orphanage from receiving more children. God’s Children was contacted by an orphanage in Carrefour, west of Port-au-Prince, whose building collapsed in the quake. The orphanage’s operators said children are sleeping outside and living in deteriorating conditions.

“We’re supposed to make sure their dossiers are in order before we accept to take them in here,” he says. “But if their building collapsed, I imagine it will be difficult or even impossible to retrieve that information.”

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