The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced Friday that several children have gone missing from hospitals in Haiti in the aftermath of the killer earthquake, raising fears of trafficking for adoption abroad.
“We have documented let’s say around 15 cases of children disappearing from hospitals, and not with their own family at the time,” UNICEF adviser Jean Luc Legrand said.
The UN agency said it expected trafficking networks to spring into action, taking advantage of weakened local authorities to kidnap children and eventually getting them out of the country.
The organisation also repeated its warning to countries that have eased established adoption procedures in an effort to fast-track the travel of orphans whose adoption cases were underway when the quake struck.
Several countries, including France, began accelerating the legal entry of eligible orphans from Haiti into their borders this week.
Susan Bissell, Child Protection Chief for the UN fund, told French news organisation RFI that while efforts have been made to hasten the departure of children whose adoption cases had been previously approved, many children who have not yet been properly assessed or granted this authorisation were also being moved.
“What we’re understanding is that large numbers of children who do not have such documentation are leaving the country,” Bissel told RFI. “We have quite – I have to say – an alarming situation on our hands.”
Opening doors to Haitian orphans
Meanwhile, the Spanish presidency of the European Union said it would urge the bloc to forge a common position on fast-track adoptions from Haiti.
France is expecting to welcome 276 Haitian children who have been matched with parents and whose cases were in the final stages of the process before the earthquake hit. A group of 33 children arrived in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport on Friday evening under the glare of the French media.
A total of 106 children being adopted by Dutch families arrived in Holland on Thursday while more than 50 orphans have been taken to the United States.
Several other countries, including Belgium, Canada, Germany and Spain are also fast-tracking adoption procedures.
Spain’s Vice-President Maria-Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said a common response from Europe on the accelerated adoptions would reinforce “aid and international protection for isolated minors travelling alone or orphans.”
An existing problem
According to Bissel, UNICEF staff are working with other children’s agencies in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince to document unaccompanied children and to offer them assistance. But the earthquake has made an already difficult situation much worse.
“We already had some pretty serious child protection issues before the earthquake,” she said. “We already had large numbers of orphanages that were not registered and hence large numbers of children not documented under even the previously existing law.