Haiti’s Children


Click here to watch this week’s story on Haiti Relief Workers.

BOB ABERNETHY, host: Kim, welcome back. What about those 10 Americans, Southern Baptists, who were charged with kidnapping? What were they doing?

KIM LAWTON, correspondent: Well, according to information from the churches that the majority of them are from in Idaho, they were trying to go down there to set up what they called a refuge for orphan children. This was apparently something that had been in the works for some time before the earthquake, and it appears that this group was, you know, seizing the opportunity or, you know, worried about the situation for these children, and so they put together a group of volunteers to go down and try to, in their words, rescue children who were victims from the earthquake.

ABERNETHY: Presumably, did they know a lot about Haiti when they went down there?

LAWTON: Well, it’s really unclear. There have been a lot of conflicting reports in terms of what they knew about the process and paperwork, what kind of paperwork and permissions they may or may not have had, both from Haitian authorities and from the Dominican authorities, and that’s part of the problem. It’s a huge, complicated situation. You’re dealing with two sovereign nations, and the whole situation is difficult.

ABERNETHY: But you’re also dealing with great sensibilities among the Haitians about somebody coming in and taking children.

LAWTON: Well, this, of course, around the world the issue of US adoptions of foreign children has raised issues of cultural sensitivities in many places. Certainly in the current environment in Haiti there’s a lot of sensitivities. There are rumors that Americans are coming down and stealing kids. There are rumors that people are taking kids for organ donations. That’s all swirling down there in the region, and, of course, there is a big sex trafficking problem down there. That existed before the earthquake, and people are worried that it’s been exacerbated by the confusion down there. There are Haitian children, Dominican children that are used in the sex tourism industry, so how do these destitute parents know if they’re giving their, you know, children to well meaning missionaries or giving them to sex traffickers? So it is a very complicated situation.

ABERNETHY: But there is this practice that has gone on before the earthquake for very poor families giving away some children, no?

LAWTON: There is. In fact, there is a common practice of giving children to other family members, perhaps, and those children become almost like indentured servants for an extended family member. You know, they cook, they clean. And my own grandparents were missionaries in Haiti during the ’70s and ’80s, and my grandmother had Haitian mothers coming to her saying, “Please take care of my children. Take them to America so they can have a better life.” My grandparents chose not to do that. They chose to stay in the country and try to create a better life there. Unfortunately, that’s a long-term process, and these kids are hungry, you know, they have to be fed tomorrow and the day after that, so it is a very difficult situation.

ABERNETHY: Kim Lawton, many thanks.