Examining Adoptions From Haiti

Concerns about adoption in Haiti after the devastating earthquake have deepened now that 10 Americans are in a Haitian jail for allegedly trying to transport 33 children out of the country illegally. Those held are Baptist missionaries who say they were saving the children.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The earthquake in Haiti created an untold number of orphans. It also divided a lot of families. In the chaos after the quake, it can be complicated figuring out who is an orphan and who is merely lost. Adoptions have been suspended for now and concerns about adoption have deepened, now that 10 Americans have been arrested for allegedly trying to transport 33 children out of Haiti illegally.

NPR's Juan Forero is in Port-au-Prince.

And, Juan, let's talk about these Americans who are being held. They're Baptist missionaries. They say they were trying to save these children, trying to take them to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic to care for them. What's the latest on their situation?

JUAN FORERO: Well, they were detained on Friday as they were trying to leave overland, and they were brought back to Port-au-Prince and they were taken to the police headquarters.

The authorities here seem to not really be sure what to do with them. Charges are pending and they have been talking to the United States about the possibility of having them prosecuted in the United States somewhere. There's no word at this point as to whether that's going to happen or not.

BLOCK: And one complicating factor here apparently is that some of these children have said we're not orphans, we have parents.

FORERO: Exactly. They were taken to a shelter back in Port-au-Prince, and at least one of those children has told some of the workers there that they have their parents. And that was something that caused a lot of concern here, because there is the worry that a lot of organizations or unscrupulous people could take advantage of children in the chaos.

BLOCK: Real question here, though, I suppose would be, were these children who were voluntarily given up by parents who were simply desperate and did not feel like they could care for them anymore?

FORERO: Well, this is apparently an old problem. Haiti is a desperately poor country and a lot of mothers have said that in the past - with three, four, five children - they've tried to find a way to get them a better life. And so, some mothers have simply turned their children over to orphanages or to relief organizations or even to just people who've come looking for children.

And apparently, it's such a serious problem that UNICEF says that there are 2,000 children who every year are trafficked out this country illegally.

BLOCK: And, Juan, you've been speaking with some of the mothers who've made this choice in the past, right?

FORERO: I have been speaking with some of the mothers in some of the tent cities here in Port-au-Prince. One mother told me that she gave away two of her children several years ago - a boy who is now 12 and another boy who is 10 -and that they are now living overseas. But she knows nothing about them. She also has a girl, 10 years old, who is now in an orphanage here, and her hope is that someone will come and take her out the country.

So it's not hard to find people who have given away their children to orphanages here in Haiti.

BLOCK: And what do you hear on the other side about the dangers and the prevalence of child trafficking in Haiti?

FORERO: Well, with the arrest of the Baptists, the government here has come out forcefully to tell parents to be careful who comes and approaches them about their children. Again, trafficking of children is apparently a very serious problem here. And so, the relief organizations and the Haitian government are worried that this problem will pick up because of the chaos.

The government is not functioning properly. It was dysfunctional actually before the quake, and now it's almost nonexistent. And so, there is the concern that this problem could pick up in the months ahead.

The other problem is that simply there are tens of thousands of parents who have been killed. So it's believed that there are children out there who do not have parents, who were wandering around. What's going to happen to them? That's the big concern.

BLOCK: Juan, thank you very much.

FORERO: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Juan Forero speaking with us from Port-au-Prince.

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