Haiti: Inter-Country Adoption and Evils on the Ground

Two news items—one via blog and the other a newspaper report—came on the same day recently.  It would seem that their jarring contents must be coming from different parts of the world.  But both come from Haiti.

From Paul Myhill’s blog:

“I need to tell you something,” the teary-eyed girl said to Campus Crusade’s country director for Haiti, Esperandieu Pierre, during his recent visit to one of the tented camps near a hospital in Port-au-Prince.

The nine year-old orphan had been raped by multiple men.

After taking her to the hospital, Esperandieu was told by the nurse that the rape of a child, especially an orphan, is now a “common event” that she sees daily…

On the same day as this post, an article in the Wall Street Journal began:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—In the aftermath of the earthquake, scores of unaccompanied Haitian children are living in fetid tent camps here. A few miles away, Dixie Bickel, an American nurse, is having trouble filling dozens of empty beds at her tidy orphanage.

Haiti’s welfare agency stopped sending kids there on the advice of the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, Ms. Bickel says. The UN agency worries that many children have been temporarily displaced by the quake. Putting them in orphanages like Ms. Bickel’s could lead to adoptions overseas that separate them from family here …

What Can We Conclude?

The simple truth is that commitment to family reunification and other in-country efforts to care for orphans should not be viewed as contradictory to viewing inter-country adoption as the very best option for some children.  The tension between the two needs to be shown for what it is:  a false dichotomy.

Certainly, if there is a reasonable chance that a child could be reunited to with living parents, that option should be the first priority.   No child should be taken out of a country in the immediate aftermath of disaster, unless he or she was known to be an orphan before the disaster struck.  I have little doubt that Dixie Bickel shares this perspective as well.

In reality, however, the pretext of protecting children from human trafficking or other evils is actually locking them into situations that are tremendously unsafe.   It is time for the U.N. to stop presenting inter-country adoption and reunification as mutually exclusive activities.

Reunification efforts should be aggressive and thorough.  Meanwhile, efforts can also be initiated that will identify those children that truly have no options for being raised in a family locally.  Such children should not be relegated to life on the streets or in an orphanage simply because many—including myself—hope that someday there will be much better options for in-country care than now exist.  We should pursue that future doggedly.  But until every child can be part of a family in Haiti, we cannot allow pursuit of this dream to force a generation to grow up without one.