Eight out of the ten Americans who faced charges of child abduction soon after the earthquake hit Haiti, walked away from jail in Port-au-Prince last week. Orphanage founder Laura Silsby and her nanny have stayed behind to face more questioning and a judicial system that is trying, but is in shambles.
As the case moves forward, incriminating evidence has surfaced: the Americans have been linked to a notorious Dominican sex-trafficker-turned-legal-adviser and to business interests in the U.S. But all of this brings up many more questions about the nature of international adoptions.
This case is reminiscent of abduction charges against the French nonprofit Zoe’s Ark in Chad in 2007. The organization was accused of airlifting 103 Sudanese children through the neighboring country illegally, with the hope of placing them in foster homes throughout Europe. In both cases, individuals carrying the banner of humanitarian will descended on a country weakened by war, or in Haiti’s case, by a natural disaster.
The public scrutiny over both scandals focused on the individuals and organizations involved in the trafficking of children. But this most recent case involving American missionaries in Haiti sheds light on a very troubling and dark side of the adoption story: a globalized and growing demand of children who, for better or for worse, can often end up being trafficked into “better” lives.
Sadly, child abduction and trafficking is not a new phenomenon in Haiti. More than 2,000 children are illegally trafficked every year out Haiti. In a 2008 report, an ABC news correspondent showed the ease with which a foreigner could “buy” a Haitian child for under $100 and face little consequences. These images stayed with me and troubled me as I traveled to Port-au-Prince later that year and saw children in the streets, asking for money, and vulnerable to anyone who’d promise to take them out of the country.
Now is a difficult time to beg for stricter enforcement on the part of Haiti’s government, which is in deep disarray. Many of these restaveks, or child laborers, and their families are especially vulnerable to child-trafficking mafias; tens of thousands of children have lost their parents in the earthquake.
But to turn a blind eye on the well-established adoption infrastructure in the U.S. and Western Europe that have enabled child trafficking from poor countries, would be a big oversight and a moral mistake.
*Ruxandra Guidi is a freelance journalist and one half of the collaboration group Fonografia Collective.