World Culture

Haiti Halts Removal Of Orphans: Pride Or Protection?

You might have been following the story out of Haiti, where ten Americans have been detained for trying to transport 33 children to a planned orphanage in the Dominican Republic. Yesterday, we talked with the associate pastor at the church where many of these Americans worship, and he insisted that they had no ill intent; they were merely trying to help children —who had already been identified as being in need—by moving them to safer circumstances. But the Haitian government is worried that these Americans were spiriting the children out of the country without permission and may have been "trafficking" these children.

Well, we had our first pass at trying to unpack this story yesterday when we spoke with Drew Ham, associate pastor of one of the churches where some of the Americans worship. Today we took another pass at it with a conversation with two women with experience in the area. We spoke with the director of communications with World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization with long history in Haiti. We also spoke with Kim Batts of Bethany Christian Services, a group with a long history in facilitating international adoptions. Both tried to explain the reasons behind holding up adoptions: fear of making a mistake being the obvious one; fear that children who happen to be unaccompanied really do have parents or guardians willing to care for them; fear of prospective parents rushing in because of emotion, without having considered the life-long demands of being an adoptive parent; and, of course, fear that children will be removed from Haiti and handed over to people with the worst of intentions.

Let's skip past the group of Americans for now. That's a particular case, and I assume with all the attention being focused on it, that the facts will come out. It seems from what I can tell, this group — right or wrong in how they went about it — seemed to think they were saving these children from the very thing the Haitian government fears — human traffickers, people who are buying and selling children to people who plan to exploit them as house servants or worse.

I confess we just scratched the surface of the hard questions on our program. Let's credit our guests for raising legitimate issues. But here are a few more, and they are hard ones:

1. What role is national pride playing here, and what role should it play?

2. Haiti has a tradition of extended family, but there is also a phenomenon of children being bound over for in home service, where they have few if any rights. We have reported on this phenomenon before. Here's a story we did in 2008: Inhumane Child Labor Conditions Persist in Haiti. Will the Haitian government be as diligent about protecting the rights of children adopted INTERNALLY as it is being about children being adopted internationally?

3. Is ideology at work, and if so whose? In the past, it was assumed —for racist reasons— that some children would be better off living in a Eurocentric environment, that they were being "saved" from their culture. But more recently, the custom and bias has been for intra-racial adoption in this country, under the argument that the adoptive parents would best understand the adoptee's culture. Now that pendulum is swinging again —parents of all races are being allowed to adopt children of all races. But if that's the policy that's really being resisted, one has to ask: Is having an identity crisis as a teenager in Cedar Rapids worse than going without food or living in a tent in Haiti?

4. Would the energy and resources Americans would spend adopting or moving children into orphanages be better spent on helping Haitians to adopt?

As I said these are hard questions. Is it too soon to ask them? Or is it already too late?

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