Haiti Puts Brakes on New Adoptions

BY Talea Miller  February 2, 2010 at 5:56 PM EDT

Updated 6:30pm ET

In the wake of the arrest of ten American missionaries in Haiti detained on charges of illegally trying to take 33 children out of the country — the missionaries say they were going to set up an orphanage — aid groups are reinforcing the need to account for lone children after a disaster like the January earthquake, and give them time to be reunited with surviving family members.

“We all know that children recover fastest if they’re able to be with family, if they can be with extended family and other relatives,” Diana Myers, vice president for international programs at Save the Children, tells correspondent Tom Bearden on tonight’s NewsHour.

Myers said that after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 more than 82 percent of the separated children the group worked with, those that seemed to be orphaned, were reunited with extended family or immediate family. The Haitian government has put a hold on some new adoptions to avoid separating families and because of fears of trafficking. The Haitian prime minister is now personally signs off on each adoption.

But, as Bearden reports, the disaster has also expedited adoption procedures that began before the earthquake, and all around the United States, Haitian children are now joining the families that have been waiting for months for the procedure to be complete. Bearden shares his experience visiting with one of those families in Colorado:

As a kid I moved around a lot because my dad was in the Army. I have some knowledge of what it’s like to arrive in a new town and a new school every three years or so and try to find a way to fit in with kids who’ve been together all their lives. So it boggles the mind to consider how overwhelming it must be for a Haitian child to leave his or her country behind and move — by themselves — to a another country that speaks a different language.

On top of that, these children also moved from a hot, warm tropical climate to an achingly dry, sometimes bitterly cold high mountain plateau in the dead of winter. Many saw snow for the first time in their lives when they got off the plane at the Denver airport.

Imagine what it was like for Guerdie Yamaguchi, one of the children we met while shooting this piece. Just last summer she met her prospective adoptive parents in an orphanage in Port-au-Prince. Six months later an earthquake destroyed her city and heavily damaged the place where she lived. At one point armed men raided the orphanage for food.

Then, as Kirk Yamaguchi puts it, a bunch of adults told her to pick up all her belongings — everything she owned fit in a small backpack — and go get on a giant military transport plane. It’s her first plane ride, and it takes her off to live in a different country forever. I hope we’ll be able to visit Guerdie in the future and see how she’s doing.

Watch Bearden’s full report on Tuesday’s NewsHour.