Tragedy Exploited: A Sad History Repeating Itself in Haiti

The humanitarian Kindertransport program brought nearly 10,000 children, mostly Jewish and mostly girls, out of Nazi Germany to Britain during the Second World War. Reunion of Kindertransport, is an international organization aimed at helping the now grown displaced persons find their kin. Some have never recovered psychologically and spent the past 50 years in mental institutions.

Yet, at the end of the Vietnam war, the U.S. decided to enact another mass “savior” of children project. The infamous Vietnam “Operation BabyLift” airlifted more than 2,500 infants and children from Vietnam in 1975, allowing the children to be adopted by families around the world.

This evangelistic rescue effort led to a class action suit in the Federal District Court in San Francisco on behalf of Vietnamese children brought to the U. S. for adoption. The suit, which claims that several of the children labeled orphans were not. They seek to enjoin adoption proceedings in order to ascertain if parents or extended family in Vietnam ever consented to their adoption or cannot be found. They further wish to return to Vietnam.

Then came the tsunami of 2004 that left in excess of five million people homeless, including about 1.5 million children most of whom “became” orphaned, according to the United Nations. As calls poured in to adopt victims, Save the Children issued a statement “Adoptions, especially inter-country ones, are inappropriate during the emergency phase…” With orphans being targeted by criminal gangs, in the wake of the floods, Sri Lanka banned adoptions fearing child trafficking.

And now we are faced with an earthquake with unimaginable damage in Haiti.

Unicef has stated it very simply:

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) said Tuesday that international adoption should be the ‘last resort’ for children orphaned by last week’s catastrophic earthquake in Haiti.

“Unicef’s position has always been that whatever the humanitarian situation, family reunification must be favoured,” spokeswoman Veronique Taveau said during a press briefing in Geneva.

“The last resort is inter-country adoption,” she said.

Taveau said Unicef is working to find and identify children left without parents after last Tuesday’s devastating earthquake in the country.

“We find them, identify them and register them, and favour family reunification,” she said, adding that for Unicef’s purposes, family includes uncles and aunts, cousins, grandparents and more distant relatives.

Unicef expressed concern amid reports of efforts to speed international adoptions of Haitian children in the aftermath of the disaster, which is estimated to have left about 200,000 people dead.

International Social Services and the International Rescue Committee concur, stating “in general, international adoption should not take place in a situation of war or natural disaster, given that these events make it impossible to verify the personal and family situation of children. Any operation to adopt or to evacuate children that are victims of the earthquake to another country must be absolutely avoided, as was the case during the 2004 tsunami….”

Haitian “children are currently experiencing extreme stress so that a sudden shift to a new country and a new family can have a psychological impact that is impossible to measure. According to the Guidelines developed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the evacuation of such children or their temporary placement in families abroad is also traumatic. It is considered as an added disruption to the injury already suffered by the child.”

The Hague Conference on International Law likewise states:

evacuation should not be confused with intercountry adoption which is a more radical measure changing the parenthood of a child. Haiti covered by the UNCRC but is not a signatory of the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention. However, any and all countries attempting to adopt from Haiti are under the limitations of that treaty which recommend that in a disaster, like the Haitian earthquake, efforts to reunite a displaced child with their parents or relatives must take priority. Premature and unregulated attempts at the international adoption of these children should be avoided. “Any decision to evacuate a child should be based on considerations of the child’s safety and should not be confused with the adoption process. A humanitarian disaster such as the earthquake should not be the reason for by-passing essential safeguards for safe adoption…. In a situation where child care and protection services have broken down such as in Haiti, the risks are even greater that the adoption may be ‘unsafe’. This is why in these tragic situations the emphasis should first be on child protection, rather than adoption.

The Quebec government has followed the advise of these experts, putting a hold on new adoption applications for Haitian children while the U.S. and the Dutch have sent planes to bring children out of Haiti in the midst of the recovery efforts despite Professor Rene Hoksbergen of Utrecht University, the Netherlands, warning that authorities should take great care in dealing with orphans from such a disaster, fearing the hurried evacuation could send a wrong signal.

“You have to be very careful in adopting these children from a country in chaos,” he said. “It might look like when a country is a disaster it is easy to adopt children there.” Worse still is the fear of all NGOs of corrupt baby brokers and opportunistic child traffickers using such disasters to their advantage.

When confused by pro and con statements about adoption, with both sides claiming to have the best interest of children at heart…follow the money.

Adoption agencies, even religious and non-profit rely on the redistribution of children to pay their bills, including salaries. This motivates their “concerns.” They have lobbyists that pressure government into quick “feel good” bills and “rescue” actions that don’t always look so quite so good in hindsight, and by those “rescued” and their families – or snatched – depending on your point of view.

Truly non-profit child advocating organizations all side with caution before the wholesale removal of children from their families and culture while lobbyists and marketers for those who profit from the redistribution just want to rush in and grab up the commodities.

SOS Children’s Village, The UN, ISS and IRC, The Hague have no financial gain in the best and safest outcomes for these children. They simply advocate what is best for the children and have the expertise and workers on the ground to back it up.

Unicef and other NGOs involved in child welfare know full well that nearly 90% of children worldwide in orphanages are not orphans but have one living parent, or extended family who visit and hope to regain custody. People in impoverished nations like Haiti reply in institutional care for temporary assistance and to access medical care they cannot otherwise afford.

Children are a highly sought commodity in a multibillion dollar industry in which demand creates supply. Poverty is always exploited, let’s not add this exploitation to people who have already suffered so very much.

There are many organizations accepting donation aid the children of Haiti for all who feel compelled to help without risking being exploitative.

Mirah Riben is an activist/author/lecturer. Read other articles by Mirah, or visit Mirah's website.

2 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. catherine said on January 21st, 2010 at 1:27pm #

    Thank you for this, Mirah.

    Yet, the news shows have heart-tugging segments continually about orphans being brought to the U.S. for adoption. It drives me crazy. And I wonder why none of the adoptive families shown are ever black, or even Haitian American?

    Please keep on this issue. Thanks again.

  2. Mulga Mumblebrain said on January 22nd, 2010 at 2:14am #

    Nice to see how the Rightwing Dutch regime has joined with The Great Satan to steal Haitian children. Funny is it not, just how natural,almost reflexive, is the Western contempt for the global untermenschen. Another variety of ‘disaster capitalism’ in action,and no doubt these unfortunate children will be used in propaganda risibly portraying the US as a force for good in the world, or as commodities to be sold for adoption for profit, or may yet end up being thrown into the Hell of the global paedophilia industry or even the burgeoning organ trade business.