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With Parents Missing, Haiti’s Child Survivors in Limbo

February 1, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Jeffrey Brown talks to Mandalit del Barco of National Public Radio in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for an update on the state of earthquake recovery, from food distribution to disputes over orphaned children.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And more on the situation now from Mandalit del Barco of National Public Radio in Port-au-Prince.

Mandalit, let’s start with the case of the missionaries. It sounds like the Haitian government is taking this very seriously. What happened today?

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, National Public Radio: Well, today, the prime minister here in Haiti said he — he believes that the Americans knew that they did something wrong by taking these children, and tried to take — taking these children to the Dominican Republic.

And he says that he thinks that he thinks that they should be tried in the United States. Now, here in Haiti, all the government buildings are crumbled completely, the presidential palace, supreme court, everything. So, it’s going to be pretty difficult, the thinking goes, to have any kind of judicial system, although they were in a hearing today. So, that is what they’re advising. We will hear more about that.

But the missionaries themselves say they don’t — they don’t think that they were doing anything wrong. It was just, you know, they were trying to — trying to help the people of Haiti. But a lot of people around here think that was a very naive thing to do. It’s not so easy just to take a child from another country, and, you know, in whatever circumstances.

That is what the people from UNICEF and Save the Children were saying. In fact, they said that they were — the thinking is that they should be reunited with their parents. And these children who were taken by the missionaries, there is a fear that they — they — their parents, are still alive. I mean, there are some reports that that was the case.

So, right now, the government is advising people not to just simply adopt these children out or take them out of the country. In fact, any child that wants to leave the country has to have the permission of the prime minister before they can leave.

You know, there’s a concern that children could be trafficked, they could become sex slaves or domestic servants. And that’s what they are trying to avoid.

In addition to that, you know, a lot of children who are kind of seemingly lost, and there are a lot of

orphan kids, but there are some kids that have relatives still here in Haiti. And the hope is to try to reunite them with their families.

So, these Americans, we will have to see what happens to them. There was a hearing today. We haven’t gotten the complete word about them. But they are still being held at the police — the judicial police station here in Port-au-Prince.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now let’s turn to the food distribution, the system that was put in place over the weekend, this voucher system. U.N. officials today were saying that it seemed to be working pretty well.

What are you seeing?

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Well, you know, the sites — the sites that they — they are hoping to feed 2 million people in the next two weeks. And they have U.N. and U.S. military out there patrolling.

But not everybody knows about these sites. I know that they tried to get the word out to folks in the different camps. And they have all these various food distribution sites around the city. What they did was — as we have heard, they have handed out coupons for — mostly to the women, so that they can get their 55 pounds of — bags of rice.

There’s some food elsewhere, too. But there’s been problems in the past. People may be more aggressive, some of the younger men trying to push the people out of the way to get their food. And so they were trying — they were hoping to avoid this by handing out the vouchers to the women, thinking that there would be less trouble that way.

And there has been some trouble. And some parts of the city are quite dangerous. So, it’s not so easy to give out this food. But I know there is that effort. Like I said, though, there’s a lot of hungry people still here in Haiti. They — they still don’t have food. And, even if they do, what happens when this, these bags of rice and the grains that they give out have run out?

I mean, people are looking at what is going to happen in the long term. The people are still living out in the open, under makeshift tents that they have made, in these tent cities. They’re afraid that the rain, rainy season is coming. It might start raining any time now.

So, there is still a lot of desperation here. There’s still a lot of need for food, but I know that there has been this effort to get, you know, things running a little more smoothly. And, by some reports, it has worked, and some reports say, you know, there — people are still needing this food.

JEFFREY BROWN: And I understand, today, you were reporting on a funeral that you attended. Tell us — tell us what you saw today.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Well, outside of Port-au-Prince, in Titanyen, it’s north of the capital here, of the city, there are mass grave sites. This is where bodies that have been found in the rubble were taken in trucks and just bulldozed.

They’re anonymous. You know, nobody knows who they are, where their families are. And, today, the supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the international lawyers bureau organized a mass funeral for these folks.

This is the first time that I know of that there has been such a public event for the mass graves. Now, this is a site where, in the past, past dictators used to use it, used to dump the bodies of the people who opposed them. So, it’s quite significant for that reason.

But, in addition to that, people say that they have been hoping for some kin

d of closure. And they wanted to honor the dead, so that their souls could be put to rest. Maybe this is an attempt to at least start that.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Mandalit del Barco of NPR in Port-au-Prince, thank you so much.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Thank you very much.