Americans Arrested, Face Charges Of Child Trafficking In Haiti

Ten Americans, a group of Southern Baptists, were detained this weekend by Haitian officials, after attempting to transport 33 children into the Dominican Republic. The Americans are members of Central Valley Baptist Church in Heridian, Idaho. Associate Pastor Drew Ham explains the group's intentions and what have may led to their arrest.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Im Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Later in the program, a new poll tells us just how deeply last months earthquake cut into the Haitian Diaspora in the U.S. Some three-fifths of Haitians in the U.S. say they lost loved ones. Well have more in just a moment.

But first, we want to talk about the sensitive issue of Americans seeking to adopt Haitian orphans. Recently, the Haitian government put measures in place to slow the overseas adoptions of Haitian children out of concerns that some might become victims of, quote-unquote, "human trafficking."

Over the weekend, 10 Americans, a group of Southern Baptists, were detained by Haitian officials after trying to transport 33 children over the border to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. Laura Silsby is a member of that group. She had this to say at a press conference from Port-au-Prince.

Ms. LAURA SILSBY: We were told by a number of people, including Dominican authorities, that we would be able to bring the children across.

Unidentified Man: (unintelligible)

Ms. SILSBY: Sir, thats the mistake, obviously, we made, is we did not understand that there was additional paperwork required. The entire team deeply fell in love with these children. They are very, very precious kids that have lost their homes and their families and are so, so deeply in need of, most of all, Gods love and his compassion and just a very nurturing setting.

MARTIN: We are joined now by Associate Pastor Drew Ham of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho. Members of his church were detained, along with Laura Silsby. Thank you for joining us.

Pastor DREW HAM (Valley Baptist Church, Meridian, Idaho): Michel, my pleasure. Thank you.

MARTIN: So, Pastor Ham, do you have a sense of what went wrong here?

PASTOR HAM: Michel, as best that we can gather, basically, its a misunderstanding of paper work. Our folks had contacted the Dominican authorities. They were in touch with an orphanage in Haiti, and, Michel, just kind of to nuance that introduction a little bit, it was not our purpose to try to adopt children out of Haiti. Our purpose was simply to set up an orphanage, which has been set up in the Dominican Republic, and offer orphans the opportunity to receive the medical care and the physical care that they wouldnt be able to receive otherwise.

MARTIN: I see what you're saying, but I just want to pin down who these children are. To your knowledge, these children were already identified as orphans or without caregivers in Haiti, and to your knowledge, they were already living in an orphanage. Do I have that right?

PASTOR HAM: Yes, maam. To your knowledge, thats the best that we've been able to understand, although our communication has been very limited with our team and with Haitian officials, as well.

MARTIN: Does your group have any experience running an orphanage?

PASTOR HAM: No, maam. We have a number of experience - we have a lot of experience as far as mission trips, but as far as running a particular orphanage, no, maam.

MARTIN: What is your connection to the orphanage where these children were taken from? Did you have some affiliation with them, some institutional affiliation with them, personal relationships?

PASTOR HAM: Michel, here's how I can explain that. We just heard that bit from Laura Silsby. Laura and her co-founder, Charisa Coulter, have had a dream of opening an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. Specifically in their purpose was to reach out to children and Haitian children who might be the victims of child trafficking.

And so that was really their heart. They came into - the two of them came into the life of this church about a year ago, and we were aware of their dream to start this orphanage. And so we were in support of that and expected a long relationship with them in trying to help them rescue children from the children trafficking issue.

MARTIN: So youre just not sure how they happened to connect with this particular group of children.

PASTOR HAM: Correct, Michel. I've kind of read the reports that everybody else has read, and its our understanding that they did have a contact in Haiti, a gentleman who was running a number of orphanages who put them in children - in touch with children that were known orphans.

MARTIN: Do you have any sympathy for - I mean, I understand this must be very upsetting. These are people you know and you feel that you can vouch for their good intentions. So I can understand how upsetting it is to you and to your fellow parishioners. But do you have any sympathy for the position of the Haitian government, being concerned that there are people taking children out of the country?

PASTOR HAM: Oh...

MARTIN: They dont know where they were going? They dont even know whether their parental rights have really been...

PASTOR HAM: Sure.

MARTIN: ...terminated or are in question?

PASTOR HAM: Yes. Michel, and I can even speak for the families of those who are detained. It was of significant note to them that the Haitian government is paying particular attention to those children that may be crossing the borders. And were - honestly, were grateful that the Haitian government is cracking down because the question was posed to me a couple of days ago by another reporter: Does it seem ironic to you that the very problem that youre seeking to combat, the problem of child trafficking, is the reason that your folks have gotten arrested?

And certainly, that does seem to be a quite a bit odd, but I hope that the Haitian government would crack down significantly nationwide just to make sure that children arent being trafficked and sold into slavery. And so I certainly understand that. Im grateful that they're being very careful. At the same time, I would say the folks that went down, I know that they were certainly trying to live above board, to cross the T's, to dot the I's, to do everything that they were told to do. And from the best of their knowledge, they had done that.

MARTIN: Will you keep us posted?

PASTOR HAM: We'd be happy to. Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: Pastor Drew Ham of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Ohio. Members of his church were detained in Haiti after trying to transport a group of Haitian children to an orphanage outside of the country. Pastor Ham wants to emphasize that they were not necessarily operating with the intention of placing these children for adoption, but merely moving them, as he understands it, to safer circumstances. Pastor Ham, thank you for speaking with us.

PASTOR HAM: My pleasure, Michel. Thank you so much for your time and your quest for truth. God bless you.

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