By Amelia Duarte de la Rosa - Special correspondent - Granma.cu
ONE can see this question repeated throughout the web. A rapid Internet search on the situation of children in Haiti throws up disturbing results. Millions of websites, blogs and pages note how to adopt these minors, as if the solution to the problem were to uproot them from their land.
The question increased after the earthquake when international humanitarian aid descended on the Caribbean nation. In the midst of the chaos, many provided selfless assistance, but others took advantage of this cover to enrich themselves.
Prior to the quake, there were an estimated 380,000 orphans in the country. According to UNICEF figures, 3.8 million infants were in a situation of extreme vulnerability in 2009 and, after January of 2010, one million children swelled the ranks of those without family care.
The disaster exacerbated their lack of protection and opened the gates to illegal adoption and human trafficking.
Even though international legislation prevents adoption proceedings in the case of military conflict or natural disaster, and adoptions in Haiti were suspended in 2007 due to the lack of legal guarantees, many governments gave the green light and facilitated those in progress.
The United States, France, Holland and Luxembourg headed the list of countries receiving dozens of young children. The Barack Obama administration, for example, allowed emergency travel visas for Haitian children being processed for adoption, even when they lacked documents, and they were able to immigrate on humanitarian grounds. The first group of Haitian orphans arrived in the United States just 10 days after the earthquake.
The speeding up of adoptions in the midst of disaster and without meeting international requisites endangered children’s rights, in addition to facilitating illegal acts. There were incidents of the theft and kidnapping of minors, as well as abandonment once they had been transferred to other countries. Trafficking networks existed previously in Haiti and increased with the situation.
By the end of January 2010, UNICEF had already denounced the theft of 15 children from Port-au-Prince hospitals. None of them were orphans. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and non-governmental organizations like Save the Children expressed concern over the thousands of children separated from their families.
This organization demanded effective measures to protect children from all forms of violence and exploitation, including sexual violence and kidnapping under the cover of adoption; at the same time it froze international adoption and instigated alarm mechanisms.
Priority was given to tracing families and the reintegration of children with their parents, extended families, or family friends prepared to look after them. On the other hand, international adoption or children being taken in by foreigners requires an international agreement between the participating governments.
In relation to the current fate of infants, Haitian President Michel Martelly is promoting education at all levels. Last October, four million began the school year – according to authorities – including 712,000 children beginning to benefit from free education. The government also launched a program against extreme poverty, which seeks to guarantee the education of children with very few resources and to alleviate the burden of families living in vulnerable areas.
Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and First Lady Sofía Martelly set in motion the Ti manman cheri program, the principal objectives of which are to improve school attendance and performance and promote women’s autonomy. The program, benefiting children in 200 elementary schools, is financed by the Venezuelan government’s Petrocaribe regional solidarity project.
The question forming the title of this article has a response which does not appear on any website: the support needed by Haiti is not the adoption of its minors. Poor children are not a merchandise needing adoption. It is the task of the state and their families to shelter and protect them so that they can develop normally in their own environment. The country needs aid which respects its autonomy.
THE STORY OF A SMILE
It all began with a smile. I was sitting on a stair landing and without me initially noticing her, a little girl was standing in front of me, staring fixedly. I gave her a timid smile and that was enough for her to come closer. . "Bèl cheve," she said and immediately began to play with my hair. She wasn’t even four years of age but looked like a simplified version of a young woman with bare feet.
I deduced that she didn’t live very far away and effectively, almost immediately three more children arrived in search of their playmate. Within seconds, I was surrounded by young girls who smiled, sang, and played with my hair. They decorated it with colored ribbons, showed me their dolls, assaulted me with questions and, from the little I could understand, I tried to answer them. I resigned myself to showing them the camera and taking photos of them.
Not more than five minutes had passed when the reclaiming cry of a mother broke the spell. The girls ran off happily toward her open arms. They looked back once and said goodbye with a smile.
I couldn’t begin to imagine those small children with a mother in another country and speaking another language. The future is uncertain for everyone, but there is nothing like returning to one’s mother, I thought.
July 12, 2012