Acting on persistent fears that homeless and orphaned children will be victimized by human traffickers, the Haitian government in Port-au-Prince has put the brakes on the large scale migration of orphans destined for adoptive families in the U.S.
Haiti’s prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, told The Miami Herald his government had received reports of children being scooped up in the streets of Port-au-Prince by non-governmental organizations. The government also has grave concerns that children may be trafficked into prostitution or slavery.
Bellerive said his country would not release children for adoption without his personal approval, and ordered non-governmental organizations working in Port-au-Prince to stop collecting children found on the capital’s streets.
“I, personally, Jean-Max Bellerive, the prime minister of the Republic of Haiti, signed three specific authorizations of adoption lists that were in the adoption process with people who are known for their services with children who are clearly identified as orphans,” Bellerive told The Herald.
As Bellerive’s order began to take effect, adoption workers, alerted by U.S. Embassy officials, scrambled over the weekend to move as many prospective adoptive children to the U.S. as possible.
A U.S. military cargo plane flew about 50 Haitian orphans from Port-au-Prince to Sanford, near Orlando, at 1:30 a.m. Monday after leaders of the His Home for Children orphanage in Port-au-Prince were told such flights would likely be suspended later that day, said Chris Nungester, the orphanage’s director.
“We were advised to get the children out of their beds, get them dressed and load them into trucks to get them to the airport, so they could immediately be placed on the next available flight,” Nungester said. The U.S. Embassy, she said, had told her such flights were coming “to a screeching halt.”
Another large Port-au-Prince orphanage, His Glory Adoption Outreach, flew 79 orphans to Florida last week, but was forced to leave another 27 children behind, as Haitian social service workers were concerned that they had not completed their adoption paperwork.
One of the 27: 11-year-old Jhonsley, who was in the process of being adopted by His Glory’s president, Kim Harmon. Jhonsley is related to three children Harmon already has adopted, Harmon said.
“My understanding is that the (U.S.) State Department and the Haitian government are working together to come up with a process to be able to get these children qualified’’ to enter the U.S., Harmon said. “We must be very careful that the right children are allowed to leave.”
Adoption workers say time is the enemy, as the 168 facilities in Haiti licensed to perform adoptions will be asked to cope with perhaps hundreds of thousands of children either orphaned or abandoned in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake.
“There is going to be a great flood into the system of children needing help,” said Nungester.
In South Florida and Sanford, meanwhile, child welfare administrators bolstered their efforts to screen adoptive parents as well, requiring last-minute criminal background checks, for example, for families whose screenings were done years ago.
Among the concerns of child welfare workers: ensuring that none of the arriving children end up in the hands of human traffickers.
Meanwhile, a severely injured infant of uncertain parentage became on Tuesday the first survivor of Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake to enter foster care in Florida.
A Miami judge ordered the baby — who is being claimed by a family in Port-au-Prince — into the custody of state child welfare administrators.
The baby girl, whose case was heard in court Tuesday, believed to be between 2-3 months old, was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital on Jan. 16 after she was discovered amid rubble with a fractured skull and two crushed arms, a DCF caseworker said in court.
The baby girl, whose name remains unknown, is believed to be the first child brought from Haiti to enter foster care in Florida. Another child may have been sheltered by federal immigration workers last week.