Children’s charities have voiced fears for the safety of thousands of orphans after Western nations began speeding up adoption procedures in the wake of the Haiti earthquake.
By Bruno Waterfield and Nick Allen in Port au Prince
Published: 6:02PM GMT 22 Jan 2010
A young orphan cries at the Lycee Francais in Port-au-Prince as he waits for a bus to the airport to be flown to France for adoption Photo: AFP
Countries including France and Spain have streamlined the process in the hope of getting young people to safety as soon as possible.
But Unicef and other welfare groups, led by British charities, have warned orphans risked being separated from their families and the well-meaning moves by Westerners could be considered “abuse”.
Some of the West’s biggest, and richest, nations – the United States, Germany, France, Spain, Canada, Belgian and Holland – are rushing through adoption applications in order to airlift children out the death and destruction in Haiti.
However, Save The Children, World Vision and the British Red Cross have called for an immediate moratorium on new adoptions until sustained efforts have been made to trace and reunite children with their families.
“Taking children out of the country would permanently separate thousands of children from their families – a separation that would compound the acute trauma they are already suffering,” said Jasmine Whitbread, Save The Children’s chief executive.
Mayi Garneadia-Pierre, a Unicef child protection volunteer, at the orphanage of Our Lady of the Nativity, in Port-au-Prince, from where children were sent to France for adoption on Friday, is concerned about their future.
“We wouldn’t stop any child from being saved,” she said. “But when a child grows to 15-years-old he has an enormous need of signposts of his identity. It’s not abuse in the sense of mistreatment, but it’s abusive in the sense of making a permanent break. You need to keep links.”
The issue is expected to deeply divide a meeting of European Union foreign ministers on Monday after Spain proposed “speeding up procedures for adoption cases” across Europe.
Roelie Post, of Against Child Trafficking, a Brussels-based group, said: “It is madness. It is insane. If the EU supports this it will lend its power and credibility to an adoption industry driven by greed and money.”
But Dixie Bickel, director of God’s Littlest Angels, an adoption agency in Haiti, is hopeful that fast track adoptions for the 50,000 Haitians orphaned before the earthquake could free up care facilities for new orphans.
“We who are doing adoptions are trying to get those children to their adoptive families so they can be safe and have food and water and medicine, and that will also free up our beds for orphans created by earthquake,” she said.
Letje Vermunt, a spokesman for the Netherlands Adoption Foundation, said the Dutch decision this week to speed up 109 existing and new adoptions was made because of the “very high risk of death considering the situation in Haiti now”.
Nine of the children, who arrived in the Netherlands, were sent to foster homes because the rushed airlift meant that children had not yet been matched to parents.
More than 30 orphans aged between one and six have also been flown to France after losing their parents or being abandoned.
While France has speeded up existing adoption applications it has been cautious about new ones. Bernard Kouchner, the country’s foreign minister, said: “We must not be accused of kidnapping”.
In a controversial case in 2007, six members of Zoe’s Ark were convicted of abducting 103 Chadian children who, the French aid charity wrongly claimed, had been orphaned by the war in Darfur.
An investigation by the UN found that the children were not orphans and were from Chad not Sudan.
The adoption row came as the UN said Haitian children had also been abducted from hospitals by people traffickers taking advantage of the chaos to trade “orphans” on the international adoption market.
Luc Legrand, an adviser to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) in Geneva, said there was evidence of children being stolen amid the death, upheaval and destruction in Haiti.
He said they had received reports of unauthorised people taking children by road to the neighbouring Dominican Republic and of planes illegally loading children before they left the airport.
“We have documented around 15 case of children disappearing from hospitals and not with their own family at the time,” he said. “Unicef has been working in Haiti for many years and we know the problem with trade of children in Haiti and unfortunately many of these trade networks have links with international adoption ‘market’.
“This is going on, this is happening now, and we are starting to have the first evidence of that, this is unquestionable.”
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said child trafficking in Haiti was “an existing problem and could easily emerge as a serious issue over the coming weeks and months”.