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In Haiti, struggles of children intensify

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 19, 2010; 1:14 PM

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Nearly half of Haiti's population is younger than 18 years old. Even in better times, many of this country's youth are in desperate need of aid.

But in the aftermath of the earthquake, officials fear thousands of children have been separated from their parents.

The Obama administration has said it will temporarily allow orphaned Haitian children who are eligible for adoption by U.S. citizens into the United States to receive care. In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said: "We are committed to doing everything we can to help reunite families in Haiti during this very difficult time."

In Port-au-Prince, clinics are starting to grapple with what to do with children they have treated who arrived unaccompanied by a parent. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for UNICEF, Tamar Hahn, said her agency was seeking to set up a facility for displaced children.

On Monday, as Hahn approached a field hospital near the airport, she was met by Karen Schneider, a pediatric emergency doctor from Johns Hopkins University.

"Did you find us parents for our kids?" Schneider demanded.

Five unaccompanied children had been brought by rescuers to the clinic, run by the University of Miami-based charity Project Medishare. One, an 8-year-old boy named Jonas, curled up in a ball on the ground and cried for his parents for two days, Schneider said.

"We realized he must have seen the bodies," she said.

On another cot was a 2-year-old girl in a diaper, covered with bloody scratches.

"Orphan Baby Girl," read the sign at the end of the cot.

No one knew who had brought in the little girl, who had the bowed arms and legs of a person with cerebral palsy. She whimpered softly.

"We can tell she's never walked. She's completely helpless," Hahn said.

On another cot lay a 9-year-old, Sandi St. Cyr, who said she was on the school bus coming home when the quake occurred. Her bus tipped over, and a man brought her to the hospital for treatment of a sprain in her leg, she said.

"I don't know if my mom is alive," she said. "I haven't seen her."

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