The aid group caring for the 33 children American missionaries tried to smuggle out of quake-hit Haiti says it would not allow family reunions until it was clear how and why they were taken.
“Some parents are now showing up to be reunited with their children, some of them met yesterday with social workers… but we cannot allow any reunion until we make clear why they were on that bus,” Georg Willeit, spokesman of SOS Children’s Villages in Haiti, told AFP.
The children were picked up last week by members of an Idaho-based Baptist group called New Life Children’s Refuge who tried to take them across the border to the Dominican Republic where they planned to establish an orphanage.
‘Emotional security of children’
The group have said they want to make sure the children were not taken with the consent of the parents.
“The emotional security of the kids is too unstable at the moment to allow a reunion. The children were traumatized,” Willeit said.
“As the investigation continues, the 33 Haitian children will be in the custody of SOS Villages, we are waiting for the decision and documents” to prove their relations, he said.
About 15 or 20 of the 33 children still have parents, Willeit added.
Earlier the CEO of SOS Children’s Villages USA, Heather Paul, told NBC’s “Today Show” that the parents were “coming to the village to reclaim their children.”
Human trafficking concerns
The case came to light as authorities in the capital Port-au-Prince expressed concern that some Haitian children may have fallen prey to human traffickers or been misidentified as orphans.
Police seized the five men and five women with US passports, as well as two Haitians, as they tried late Friday to cross into the neighboring Dominican Republic with the children aged between two months and 12 years.
Paul said the children had been in poor condition when her group first received them but that they appeared to be on the mend.
“They came quite traumatized, as you can imagine, for a number of reasons. First, the devastation of the earthquake and then the mystery or confusion of their family’s disappearance.”
“They’re getting better,” she said.
Paul added that while in the care of the US Baptist group, the children, “weren’t well dressed, they were dehydrated.
They needed medical assistance.”
Stricter rules ‘needed’
She said the case underscored the need for stricter rules and greater vigilance in dealing with children in Haiti.
“I don’t know all the facts, but if they were good intentions, they’ve certainly gone awry,” she said.
“I think this is proof positive for all those people around the world who would like to adopt Haitian children, that we must wait on the right registration.”
Laura Silsby, head of New Life Children’s Refuge, has insisted the group’s aims were entirely altruistic.
“We came here literally to just help the children. Our intentions were good,” she told AFP from police detention. “We wanted to help those who lost parents in the quake or were abandoned.”
In Port-au-Prince, interim prosecutor Mazar Fortil said the Christians may face a charge of criminal conspiracy in Haiti as well as possible charges of kidnapping minors and child-trafficking.
US consular officials visited the detained Americans and brought them food and insect repellent, but relatives back in the United States said they had hoped American officials might have done more.
The Haitian judge in charge of the case of the Christian group says he has interviewed five members and will later speak to the other five.
“We interviewed five Americans for several hours at the judicial police headquarters,” Judge Isai Pierre-Louis told AFP, adding that he will meet with the other members of the group Wednesday, to decide whether to move forward with the case, and if charges will be filed.
Mazar Fortil, interim prosecutor for the main Port-au-Prince court, told AFP on Monday that the group, which is yet to be formally charged, could be tried for kidnapping, child trafficking and a lesser charge of criminal conspiracy.