International Rescue Committee says Foreign Adoptions of Haitian Children Are Still Premature As Aid Groups Continue to Reunite Families 6 Months After Earthquake
Until all efforts to trace relatives or identify local caregivers have been exhausted, separated Haitian children must not be put up for adoption, says the International Rescue Committee, a leading aid organization reuniting families in Haiti.
“Every week, IRC case workers are tracing missing relatives and reuniting families and every week they meet more parents desperately searching for their children,” says Jennifer Morgan, who runs the International Rescue Committee’s family tracing program in Haiti. “It’s simply too early to assume that a separated child is an orphan.”
More than 50,000 Haitian children were reportedly living in orphanages prior to the earthquake and many had been placed there by destitute parents for an assurance of food, shelter and education. No one knows how many children were orphaned or separated on January 12. What’s clear is that many families were not with their children at the time of the earthquake. People scattered everywhere, fleeing to the countryside or finding shelter in hundreds of makeshift settlements dotting the worst affected areas. Countless numbers of neighbors and well intentioned strangers took in children that they found alone and scared on the street.
By the end of June, aid groups had collectively registered 2,280 separated children and reunited more than 390 with relatives. The IRC, which is assigned to the hard-hit neighborhoods of Delmas and Centreville in Port au Prince, currently has a caseload of 638 separated children. Of those, the IRC’s team of 18 case workers has been able to trace and reunite 40 families.
“Seeing a grieving mother embrace a child that she thought was dead is indescribable,” says Morgan. “That’s what motivates us to keep searching for missing relatives and to ensure that separated children are safe and cared for in familiar surroundings in the meantime. Family unity is their right and it’s in their best interest.”
After the earthquake, the Haitian government placed a temporary moratorium on new international adoptions, allowing only those already in the pipeline—a move that the IRC strongly supported. The aim was to protect vulnerable children from exploitation and trafficking—a serious concern considering the large number of unregistered and unregulated orphanages in Haiti and the deluge of adoption requests in the wake of the disaster.
“There was little oversight of adoptions brokered by orphanages before the earthquake,” says Rebecca Chandler, IRC emergency child protection coordinator. “We’ve heard many reports of children with living parents being taken out of the country without proper consent. In some cases, parents were persuaded to give up their children with false promises that the adoptions were temporary or that they would still have contact with their child.”
The IRC supports a recent pledge by the Haitian government to reform its adoption policies and ratify the Hague convention on inter-country adoption. It comes amid increasing pressure from adoption advocates to expedite the adoption process.
Haiti would first need to introduce a number of safeguards in order for its adoption policies to conform to international standards. These include ensuring that birth parents are fully aware that they are relinquishing claims over and contact with their child, says Chandler. There also must be legal documentation of parental consent administered by a government authority.
Meanwhile, the IRC and other child protection agencies have started working with the Haitian government to further develop a viable foster care and national adoption system, as well as other short and long-term options for children who have lost their families or cannot be cared for by relatives.
“International adoption can be a wonderful thing for a child and may be the best option for some Haitian children,” says Chandler. “But under the circumstances, it should only be considered if all other options have been exhausted.”
More about the IRC's work in Haiti
The IRC launched programs in Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. In addition to reunifying separated families, IRC teams in Haiti are focusing on restoring livelihoods, delivering mobile medical services, providing learning and recreational programs for children, building latrines, washing stations and shower facilities, clearing waste and promoting health and hygiene, protecting women, responding to the needs of rape survivors, and ensuring women have access to critical supplies and helping relocate vulnerable people ahead of the storm season, including those living in flood zones and other exposed areas. Special Report and How to Help>
Aisha Bain (Port au Prince)
+509 3486 0718, aisha.bain@theIRC.org
Melissa Winkler (New York)
+1 646 734 0305, melissa.winkler@theIRC.org
Lucy Carrigan (New York)
+1 212 551 0969, lucy.carrigan@theIRC.org