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American church group held after trying to take children out of Haiti
01-31-2010, 05:26 PM,
American church group held after trying to take children out of Haiti
Quote:A group of 10 American Baptists were being held in Port-au-Prince today after trying to take 33 children out of Haiti.

The church group, most of them from Idaho, allegedly lacked the proper documents when they were arrested on Friday night in a bus along with children aged from two months to 12 years who had survived the earthquake.

The group said they were setting up an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic.

"In this chaos the government is in right now we were just trying to do the right thing," the group's spokeswoman, Laura Silsby, said at the judicial police headquarters in Port-au-Prince, where the Americans were being held pending a hearing tomorrow before a judge.

The Baptists' Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission was described as an effort to save abandoned, traumatised children. They wanted to take 100 children by bus to a 45-room hotel at Cabarete, a beach resort in the Dominican Republic, that they were converting into an orphanage, Silsby told the AP.

However, the Americans – the first known to be taken into custody since the 12 January quake – are now in the middle of a political firestorm in Haiti, where government leaders have suspended adoptions amid fears that parentless or lost children are more vulnerable than ever to child trafficking.

Silsby said 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 pastor Jean Sanbil, of the Sharing Jesus Ministries.

Silsby, 40, of Boise, Idaho, was asked if she thought it was naive to cross the border without adoption papers at a time when Haitians are so concerned about child trafficking. "By no means are we any part of that. That's exactly what we are trying to combat," she said. She said she had not been following news reports while in Haiti.

The social affairs minister Yves Cristallin told AP that the Americans were suspected of taking part in an illegal adoption scheme. Cristallin said the 33 children were lodged late Saturday at an SOS Children's Village outside Port-au-Prince. SOS Children's Villages is a global nonprofit organisation based in Austria.

Many children in Haitian orphanages are not actually orphans but have been abandoned by families who cannot afford to care for them. Advocates ina Haiti and abroad warn that with so many people unaccounted for, adoptions should not be allowed until it can be determined that the children have no relatives who can raise them.

Unicef and other NGOs have been registering children who may have been separated from their parents. Relief workers are finding children at camps housing the homeless around the capital and are placing them in temporary shelters while they try to locate their parents, or a more permanent home.

The US Embassy in Haiti sent consular officials, who met the detained Americans and gave them bug spray and field rations, according to Sean Lankford of Meridian, Idaho, whose wife and 18-year-old daughter were being held.

"They have to go in front of a judge on Monday," Lankford told the Associated Press.

"There are allegations of child trafficking and that really couldn't be farther from the truth," he added. The children "were going to get the medical attention they needed. They were going to get the clothes and the food and the love they need to be healthy and to start recovering from the tragedy that just happened."

Haiti has imposed new controls on adoptions since the earthquake, which left thousands of children parentless or separated from their families. The government now requires the prime minister Max Bellerive to personally authorise the departure of any child as a way to prevent child trafficking.

Silsby said they had documents from the Dominican government, but did not seek any paperwork from the Haitian authorities before taking the children to the border.
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