Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Parents 'reclaim' children in Haiti abduction-adoption row

WASHINGTON, USA (AFP) -- The 33 infants and children that an American Christian group tried to smuggle out of quake-hit Haiti are being reunited with their families, the US-based aid group now caring for them said Tuesday.

The children were picked up last week by members of an Idaho-based Baptist group called New Life Children's Refuge who tried to take them across the border to the Dominican Republic where they planned to establish an orphanage.

But some of the children are not orphans at all.

A woman who identified herself as the mother of one of the 33 children caught up in the process of ten members of a US Christian group charged with child-trafficking speaks to the press. AFP PHOTO

"The parents now are coming to the village to reclaim their children," Heather Paul, the CEO of SOS Children's Villages USA, told NBC's "Today Show". "We already hear that many are saying that we have parents."

Police seized five men and five women with US passports, as well as two Haitians, as they tried late Friday to cross into the neighboring Dominican Republic with the children aged between two months and 14 years.

The case came to light as authorities in the capital Port-au-Prince expressed concern that some Haitian children may have fallen prey to human traffickers or been misidentified as orphans.

Paul said the children had been in poor condition when her group first received them but that they appeared to be on the mend.

"They came quite traumatized, as you can imagine, for a number of reasons. First, the devastation of the earthquake and then the mystery or confusion of their family's disappearance."

"They're getting better," she said.

Paul added that while in the care of the US Baptist group, the children, "weren't well dressed, they were dehydrated. They needed medical assistance."

She said the case underscored the need for stricter rules and greater vigilance in dealing with children in Haiti.

"I don't know all the facts, but if they were good intentions, they've certainly gone awry," she said.

"I think this is proof positive for all those people around the world who would like to adopt Haitian children, that we must wait on the right registration."

Laura Silsby, head of New Life Children's Refuge, has insisted the group's aims were entirely altruistic.

"We came here literally to just help the children. Our intentions were good," she told AFP from police detention. "We wanted to help those who lost parents in the quake or were abandoned."

In Port-au-Prince, interim prosecutor Mazar Fortil said the Christians may face a charge of criminal conspiracy in Haiti as well as possible charges of kidnapping minors and child-trafficking.

US consular officials visited the detained Americans and brought them food and insect repellent, but relatives back in the United States said they had hoped American officials might have done more.

"I've seen them on TV and they look like they're in good spirits," Sean Lankford, whose wife and 18-year-old daughter were among those held, told NBC.

He said he had not been able to speak to them since their arrest and was concerned that they had not received better treatment in detention.

"First off, you know, I think they were required to give them food and water. I mean, the basic essentials for life. And they were to help them to contact counselors on their behalf -- at least to give them the ability to do that. They were late in doing that," Lankford complained.

"I appreciate everything they have done. I know that it took them a while to find them first off. I know also that there's a lot of needs that are happening in Haiti," the Meridian, Idaho resident said.

But he added "as a dad and a husband, you know, I just want to make sure that my wife and my daughter have everything that they need, and my friends there have everything they need to stay healthy while they work through this, and while we try to help them work through this."