Baptists Say They Were Trying to Do Good in Haiti
2010-02-01 0:00

By Frank Bajak, Paisley Dodds | ABCNews

Ten U.S. Baptists arrested trying to take 33 children out of earthquake-shattered Haiti say they were just trying to do the right thing, applying Christian principles to save Haitian children.

Prime Minister Max Bellerive told The Associated Press Sunday he was outraged by the group's "illegal trafficking of children" in a country long afflicted by the scourge and by foreign meddling.

American citizens pose for a photo at police headquarters in the international airport of Port-au-Prince, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010.. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

But the hard reality on the ground in this desperately poor country especially after the catastrophic Jan. 12 quake is that some parents openly attest to their willingness to part with their children if it will mean a better life.

It was a sentiment expressed by all but one of some 20 Haitian parents interviewed at a tent camp Sunday that teemed with children whose toys were hewn from garbage.

"Some parents I know have already given their children to foreigners," said Adonis Helman, 44. "I've been thinking how I will choose which one I may give probably my youngest."

Haiti's overwhelmed government has halted all adoptions unless they were in motion before the quake amid fears that parentless or lost children are more vulnerable than ever to being seized and sold.

Without proper documents and concerted efforts to track down their parents, they could be forever separated from family members able and willing to care for them. Bellerive's personal authorization is now required for the departure of any child.

The orphanage where the children were later taken said at least some of the kids have living parents, who were apparently told that the children were going on an extended holiday from the post-quake misery.

The church group's own mission statement said it planned to spend only hours in the devastated capital, quickly identifying children without immediate families and busing them to a rented hotel in the Dominican Republic without bothering to get permission from the Haitian government.

Whatever its intentions, other child welfare organizations in Haiti called the plan reckless.

The children, ages 2 months to 12 years old, were taken to an orphanage run by Austrian-based SOS Children's Villages, where spokesman George Willeit said they arrived "very hungry, very thirsty."

A 2- to 3-month old baby was dehydrated and had to be hospitalized, he said. An orphanage worker held and caressed another, older baby, who was feverish and looked disoriented.

"One (8-year-old) girl was crying, and saying, 'I am not an orphan. I still have my parents.' And she thought she was going on a summer camp or a boarding school or something like that," Willeit said.

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