Trafficking Worries Amid Haiti Adoptions

After an 11-hour flight from Haiti, four-year-old Jersen Silvester Eefting met his new parents in his new home in the Netherlands. Jersen is one of 123 children flown to the Netherlands on Thursday. Between 1,200 and 1,500 adoption cases like this are thought to be pending in France. US officials think there are at least 300 such cases in the states–some advocacy groups predict the number of pending adoptions is more like 900.

Last week’s devastation in Haiti–a country that had 380,000 orphans before the earthquake–triggered an influx of questions about adopting Haitian children. Amid the adoption flurry, aid groups warned last week that this could easily lead to human trafficking.

A Unicef spokesperson said that a Haitian government report found that 15 children had disappeared from hospitals and they’re thought to be “taken.” There have also been observations at the airport of children being loaded onto planes. “Unicef has been working in Haiti for many years and we knew the problem with the trade of children in Haiti which existed before,” the Unicef representative said. “Unfortunately many of these trade networks have links with the international adoption ‘market’.”

Human trafficking among Haitian children was a big problem for the country before the quake. A Haitian newspaper estimated 173,000 Haitian children internally trafficked for domestic servitude in 2008.

The Haitian government worked to track down families and make sure that all kids under five were in a safe place and properly fed by this weekend.There are 29 agencies pooling child protection resources in the country, according to a report by The Guardian. Aid groups have set up about 20 safe centers that are catering to  2,000 children every day. Groups have also established surveillance system to monitor disappearances and work to prevent them from happening.

People are coming together to help the children that need help in Haiti, but the goal is not to export the kids. Several Haiti adoption websites say new adoption applications are not being processed.

Unicef has also opposed outside adoption saying it’s a last resort. After all, an unaccompanied child on the street is not necessarily an orphan. “It will take some time before we reach an understanding of the number of children who are going to be orphaned,” a Unicef spokesperson said. “Do not forget that Haitian society has a very strong setup and that there will be a lot of family members willing to care about children from their own families.”

Carolyn Miles of Save the Children said, “the vast majority of the children currently on their own still have family members alive who will be desperate to be reunited with them and will be able to care for them with the right support.” And according to a Unicef spokesman, it’s not uncommon for poor families to put their kids in orphanages with a view of getting them back later.

Some of the adoption scenarios involve families who entered the adoption process before the earthquake hit, but are now anxious to speed up the process. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CNN she was “personally directing that we do everything we can to try to find and identify those children who are already adoptable… and to try to expedite all the paperwork… to get them to their new home.” And And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the U.S.’s move to waive visa requirements for Haitian children already on the path to adoption would allow them “to receive the care they need.”

Some worry whether removing a kid from her country further disrupts a country that’s been seismically torn apart. The relocation could save her life and give her opportunities she might not have if she stayed, but it could also upend her entire sense of community. The bottom line:  Most officials agree that sending emergency aid resources to Haiti is a better option than withdrawing anything or anyone.

These are sticky questions. Should homeless Haitian children be flown out of the country for adoption? In what cases?

2 thoughts on “Trafficking Worries Amid Haiti Adoptions

  1. Timely! Kudos for jumping on a hot topic, doing some good research, and creating context, raising issues, linking to resources — exactly what a good digital journalist does (and what any good journalist does — but digital journalists get to link). Someone could and should make an entire beat out of this issue, starting with finding some people to interview. The flash code at the bottom of the page indicates that you tried to embed a video. Probably what you need to do is to edit the post, cut out the embed code, switch your editor to html mode, re-paste the embed code, update the page.

  2. From what I've heard on NPR, the kids who've been shipped out were already in the process of being adopted by foreign families. There are so many interesting ethical and international issues here, bravo for writing about them!

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