Ten Baptist workers arrested for child trafficking in Haiti

Featured, Haiti — By Jamaal Bell on January 31, 2010 at 20:16

The group of Americans who were arrested for "abduction" in Haiti. AP photo

PORT-AU-PRINCE – Jan 31, 2010 - Ten Baptist church workers will appear in a Haitian court tomorrow  for attempting to transport illegally 33 Haitian children by bus in an attempt to save children, the workers said.  The US Embassy has confirmed 10 US citizens are being held for “alleged violations of Haitian laws related to immigration.”

Five men and five women were arrested and detained at Malpasse, Haiti’s main border crossing with the Dominican Republic, after Haitian police conducted a routine search of their vehicle.

Their plan was to take children by bus to a rented hotel at a beach resort in the Dominican Republic, where they planned to establish an orphanage.

The Haitian government has concerns that traffickers could try to exploit the chaos and turmoil following Haiti’s quake to engage in illegal adoptions.

“This is totally illegal,” said Yves Christallin, Haiti’s social affairs minister, to Reuters. “No children can leave Haiti without proper authorization and these people did not have that authorization.”

Among the 10 arrested, Laura Sillsby from the Idaho-based charity New Life Children’s Refuge denied they had done anything wrong to Al Jazeeza and the Associated Press.  “Our understanding, as we were told by a number of people including Dominican authorities, that we will be able to bring the children across…  I didn’t understand that there was additional paperwork required.”

“We have a Baptist minister here (in Port-au-Prince) whose orphanage totally collapsed and he asked us to take the children to the orphanage in the Dominican Republic,” Sillsby told ReutersUSA Today reported that the Baptist minister is Jean Sanbil of the Sharing Jesus Ministries.

Reuters photo.

Contradictory to what she said to Al Jazeeza and AP, she said to Reuters, “I was going to come back here to do the paperwork,” Sillsby said. “They accuse us of children trafficking. This is something I would never do. We were not trying to do something wrong.”

A Haitian official who was not authorized to speak on record said to CNN, “It appears their orphanage was damaged and they were moving the children to their facility in the [Dominican Republic] but failed to obtain exit visas from Haiti.”

The 33 children are now being cared for at SOS Children’s Village.  According to ABC News, Patricia Vargas, regional director of the SOS said most of the kids have family.

Vargas says, older children of the group say some of the youngsters’ “parents are alive, and some of them gave us an address and phone numbers.”

Jeanne Bernard-Pierre, general director for Haiti’s Institute of Social Welfare, said the children will be interviewed in the coming days to determine whether they have any living relatives, reported CNN.

Christallin told the UK Telegraph and ABC News, “This is an abduction, not an adoption.”

USA Today reported that the quake apparently orphaned many children and left others separated from parents, adding to the difficulty of helping children in need while preventing exploitation of them.

While many legitimate adoption agencies and orphanages operate in Haiti, often run by religious groups, the intergovernmental International Organization for Migration reported in 2007 that bogus adoption agencies in Haiti were offering children to rich Haitians and foreigners in return for processing fees reaching $10,000.

The agency said some Haitian parents were giving their children to traffickers in return for promises of financial help.

Sillsby told USA Today, that the group, including members from Texas and Kansas, only had the best of intentions and paid no money for the children, whom she said they obtained from the Haitian Baptist Pastor.  “By no means are we part of [trafficking]. That’s exactly what we are trying to combat,” she said.

Amanda Weisbaum, from the non-profit organization, Save the Children UK, told Al Jazeera that taking children out of their home country is not in their best interests.

“Experience has shown it is better to keep children in the place, and with the people, they know,” she said.

“The Haitian government was quite right to halt these people at the border if they felt they didn’t have the right paperwork.”

The United States has urged citizens moved by Haiti’s earthquake to show patience in adopting children, and Haiti said Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti’s prime minister will have to sign off on every minor’s departure abroad for the time being.

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Author: Jamaal Bell (6 Articles)

Jamaal Bell

Jamaal Bell is media relations manager for the Kirwan Institute and the executive editor for Race-Talk. Prior to joining Kirwan in 2009, his communications experience included work for school districts, government and marketing communications firms. Jamaal has also served four years in the United States Navy. He holds a B.S. in Public Relations from Ball State University. Follow him on Twitter @Sgt_Justice or Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/sgtjustice).

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