This article about members of a U.S. Baptist group charged with kidnapping after they tried to leave Haiti with 33 children, referred to the group members as American Baptists. The group is associated with churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and is not part of American Baptist Churches USA.
10 Baptists held after trying to take children out of Haiti
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- Ten American Baptists who tried to leave Haiti with 33 destitute children were stuck in legal limbo Monday, with Haitian and U.S. officials negotiating over whether the church members should be prosecuted in the United States.
The Americans, Baptist church members from Idaho and other states, said they were taking the children to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic and deny any wrongdoing. But Haitian authorities said members of the group, who have little experience in international adoptions, did not have permission to leave the country with the children.
On Monday, the church members were being held in a dank room at the judicial police headquarters, where they had not yet been charged, as Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and other Haitian authorities met with U.S. officials to discuss their fate.
Fortil Mazar, a prosecutor in Port-au-Prince, said members of the group face kidnapping and child-smuggling charges. In Washington, a State Department spokesman said the United States is helping in the investigation but has not yet determined the "appropriate course" of action.
The case reflects a growing fear in this poverty-stricken country, where the government is on life support and thousands of children were left without parents after the devastating earthquake that struck Jan. 12. Adoptions in Haiti are common, according to agencies that help children, but so is the trafficking of children.
Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, Haiti's communications minister, told reporters Monday afternoon that "people need to be careful about people who may try to kidnap their kids."
"Be careful about people who say they are going to take care of kids; it may not be true," she added.
With Haiti even poorer than before, many parents, particularly those who lost their homes and whatever meager earnings they had, are desperate to find ways to feed their children. At the Parc Boulos camp, a sloping, rocky hill filled with tents and packed tight with families, mothers spoke about trying to find a way to send their children into the countryside or even abroad.
Islande Normil, 31, said that five years ago she gave her two eldest -- Ronason and Jameson, now 12 and 10 -- to an adoption agency and that she assumes they are both in the United States. Another child, a 10-year-old girl, is in an orphanage in Haiti, she said, awaiting parents who may want her in another country. Normil is left with a 3-year-old girl, who rocked in her arms as she talked to a foreign visitor.
"Some people blame me for what I did -- that I gave them away," she explained. "But I gave them a better life."
Normil said she imagines that the children who were discovered with the Baptists were given away by mothers anguished that they could not take care of them. "For the mothers of those kids, these Americans were trying to do good, they were trying to help," she said.
Another mother, Cleande Saint-Felix, 27, said she would not give her children to an orphanage -- but she did give them to her mother, who lives in the countryside, where damage from the quake was light. She held a 5-month-old girl, but the older ones -- ages 9 and 6 -- are already gone.