[By Frank Bajak, Associated Press | Monday, 1 February, 2010.]
Ten American Baptists were being held in the Haitian capital Sunday after trying to take 33 children out of Haiti at a time of growing fear about possible child trafficking.
The church members, most from Idaho, said they were trying to rescue abandoned and traumatized children. Officials said they lacked the proper documents when they were arrested Friday night in a bus with earthquake survivors 2 months to 12 years old.
The group said its Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission was an effort to help abandoned children by taking them to an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic.
"In this chaos the government is in right now, we were just trying to do the right thing," the group's spokeswoman, Laura Silsby, said at the judicial police headquarters in the capital, where the Americans were being held. Haiti's justice secretary, Amarick Louis, said a commission would meet today to determine whether the group would go before a judge.
No charges had been filed.
The children, some of them sick and dehydrated, were taken to an orphanage run by Austrian-based S.O.S. Children's Villages, which was trying to find their families, said a spokesman there, George Willeit.
"One child, an 8- or 9-year-old, said she thought she was going to some sort of summer or vacation camp in the Dominican Republic," Willeit said.
The members of the Baptist group planned to bus up to 100 kids to a 45-room hotel at Cabarete, a beach resort in the Dominican Republic that they were converting into an orphanage, Silsby said.
Social Affairs Minister Yves Cristallin said they were suspected of taking part in an illegal adoption scheme.
Following the quake, children's rights groups have urged a halt to adoptions until it can be determined that the children have no relatives who can raise them.
Many children in Haitian orphanages have parents who cannot afford to care for them.
The government now requires Prime Minister Max Bellerive to personally authorize the departure of any child as a way to prevent child trafficking - though that has not stopped the flow of orphans abroad. (Link.)