All sorts of nasty things have been occurring in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake earlier this month, as I’m sure everyone knows. Tens of thousands of bodies have been buried in mass graves. Many people remain missing. The true death toll may never be known, as the Haitian government couldn’t even keep track of their living citizenry before the quake. As if this most unfortunate of nations hasn’t suffered enough! My psychiatrist is from Haiti and went on the local TV with his wife (also Haitian) appealing for aid for his country. Fortunately, he told me, he knows his family survived.
And top of everything else, child traffickers may be swooping down trying to take advantage of the tragedy and chaos. I’m not sure how big the problem really is — so far it looks like there’s only 15 confirmed cases of children being removed from the country illegally — but it has the potential to be huge if not checked immediately.
There are a lot of well-meaning people out there who want to help out by adopting a Haitian earthquake orphan or two. Haiti also had a small international adoption program before the disaster. But international aid organizations and the U. S. State Department are advising the would-be adopters to hold their horses. Many of those “orphans” may actually have parents or other relatives alive and able to care for them, and time is needed to sort out the genuinely orphaned from the merely displaced. I am reminded of an incident during the Vietnam war when a few hundred Vietnamese children were airlifted out of the country and sent to the US. The people who took them in were under the impression that they were adopting orphaned children, but those children actually had living parents who were under the impression that their children were merely being fostered until conditions were better, and then they would be returned home. It was a terrible situation for everyone involved.
But non-orphaned children taken abroad to loving adoptive families may be the lucky ones. Haiti had a pretty big child trafficking problem of another kind before the quake — child sex trafficking and slavery in general. As the London Times points out, the situation in Port Au Prince is such that child traffickers now have their pick of victims. All these kids are running around the streets with nowhere to turn — fish in a barrel. And those who disappear will probably be assumed to be simply buried under the rubble.
What can I say? It’s a nightmare over there. It wasn’t exactly a bed of roses before the earthquake flattened Port-au-Prince. But we can help make things better. Or at least not make them worse.