The American missionaries detained in Haiti last week for trying to take 33 children to neighboring Dominican Republic have been charged with abduction and criminal association, according to prosecutors.
After announcing the charges, Haitian Deputy Prosecutor Jean Ferge Joseph told the Americans their case was being sent to an investigative judge, Reuters reported.
“That judge can free you but he can also continue to hold you for further proceedings,” the deputy prosecutor told the five men and five women at a hearing.
If convicted, the 10 Baptist missionaries could face prison terms of up to 15 years. The group won’t face an open trial, their attorney in Port-au-Prince, Edwin Coq, told the Associated Press. Instead, a judge will decide whether to free the Americans from a jail in the nation’s capital.
The missionaries, most members of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, were arrested at the Dominican border on Friday. Members of the group have told reporters they went to Haiti to simply help rescue children orphaned by last month’s earthquake. But several of the children they were traveling with had at least one living parent, according to the New York Times.
The arrests highlight a problem that has only heightened in the wake of the Jan. 12 quake: children abandoned in Haiti by their desperately poor families.
As the Wall Street Journal reports:
“Before last month, Haiti already had 380,000 children in orphanages. That was certain to grow in the aftermath of the Jan. 12 quake, which wiped out what little most people here had. In the past few weeks, some orphanages say they have seen relatives hoisting children over the walls and running away.”
At least some of the parents of the 33 children said they gave their children to the missionaries in the hope that they would have better lives elsewhere. As one parent told NPR, “I am living in a tent with a friend. My main concern is that if the kids come back I’m not going to be able to feed them.”
Earlier this week, the NewsHour’s Tom Bearden reported on how some Haitian children, who were already in the process of moving to adoptive homes in the U.S., are faring.
And on Thursday’s NewsHour, watch Ray Suarez’s final report from Haiti, on the monumental task ahead to rebuild the country’s shattered government.