If you want to be truly depressed, read this New York Times report that ran under the headline: “Bleak Portrait of Haiti Orphanages Raises Fears.” Here’s the start of Ginger Thompson’s report from Port-au-Prince:
The floors were concrete and the windows were broken.
There was no electricity or running water. Lunch looked like watery
grits. Beds were fashioned from sheets of cardboard. And the only
toilet did not work.
But the Foyer of Patience here is like hundreds of places that pass as orphanages for thousands of children in the poorest country in the hemisphere. Many are barely habitable, much less licensed. They have no means to provide real schooling or basic medical care, so children spend their days engaged in mindless activities, and many die from treatable illnesses.
Haiti’s child welfare system was broken before the earthquake struck. But as the quake shattered homes and drove hundreds of thousands of people into the streets, the number of children needing care grew exponentially.
The bottom line: Haitian authorities have every reason to believe that orphaned, abandoned and needy children are ending up in the hands of people whose motives are certainly much worse than the now infamous 10 Baptists from Idaho who remain at the center of an international media frenzy.
Many children are on their way to being sold as servants and sex slaves. Some of these victims are passing through “orphanages.” Many more are not. As the Times noted:
While there is no evidence that the Americans, who said they were trying to rescue children in the aftermath of the earthquake, intended any harm, the ease with which they drove into the capital and scooped up a busload of children without documents exposed vast gaps in the system’s safeguards. …
At the front lines of the system are the orphanages, which run the gamut from large, well-equipped institutions with international financing to one-room hovels in a slum where a single woman cares for abandoned children as best she can.
Most of the children in them, the authorities said, are not orphans, but children whose parents are unable to provide for them. To desperate parents, the orphanage is a godsend, a temporary solution to help a child survive a particularly tough economic stretch. Many orphanages offer regular family visiting hours and, when their situations improve, parents are allowed to take their children back home.
The Southern Baptists from Idaho said claim that the purpose of their short-term, independent mission was to set up just such an orphanage — across the border. The claim that some of the true orphans were candidates for adoption and that those with family in Haiti were not. The reporting in the Times has repeatedly demonstrated the confusion surrounding these claims, with new questions being raised in almost every report.
Then there is the even darker world of the criminal networks. Were the Baptists caught because they were not corrupt enough?
There is no precise count of the number of orphanages in this country, the number of children living in them, or of the children who are victims of trafficking, although Unicef estimates that number in the tens of thousands per year. The authorities said thousands of those trafficked were sold as servants, known as restaveks, to well-to-do Haitian families. Others, officials say, are smuggled into the Dominican Republic to do domestic and agricultural work, often in appalling conditions. …
Haitian authorities acknowledge that the fledgling efforts of a financially struggling government long plagued by corruption have proved little match for the highly organized, multimillion-dollar criminal networks.
After reading the latest wave of reporting on this case, I have two main questions — especially since it is clear that the members of the Idaho team were outsiders who do not speak Creole.
(1) While the Americans were said to have lacked at least one crucial document when they tried to cross the border, who obtained and filled out all of the documents that were already in their possession? Who handled the earlier contacts with the government?
(2) Who were the Haitians who handled the contacts with the distressed local parents, before and after the Idaho team arrived? Who communicated the terms of the offer? Who, supposedly, received the consent of these Haitian parents?
In other words, who served as the bridge between Laura Silsby, the controversial businesswoman who led the Idaho team, and its partners on the ground in Haiti? As another Times report notes:
Family and friends of the group members have said little critical of Ms. Silsby or the churches that helped promote the trip. Mr. Lankford said that he was not sure how well his family members knew Ms. Silsby, but that their understanding was that logistical and legal details in Haiti were “being taken care of.”
Haitian officials say Ms. Silsby lacked documentation to take custody of and travel with the children. A lawyer in Haiti for the group, Edwin Coq, suggested to reporters this week that Ms. Silsby might face a difficult prosecution. … When Mr. Coq was asked about the other nine Americans, he echoed their friends and relatives here: “completely innocent,” he said.
The stories keep spiraling back to a central question: Who made the arrangements on the ground in Haiti, handling the contacts with the families and the incomplete contacts with the government?
The odds are very good that they speak Creole.