Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Orphanages as Barriers to Family Reunification in Haiti

I posted a short blurb a few weeks ago about the International Rescue Committee's efforts to reunite children and families who were separated by the 2010 Haitian earthquake. It seems that some orphanages in Haiti are a huge obstacle to these reunification efforts:
"Stop reunifying children with their families!"

These were the words that greeted me when I arrived at work one morning a few months ago, from the director of a Port-au-Prince orphanage, furious at me for doing my job: tracing the relatives of children separated from their families.

"You are destroying my business," he screamed.

We suspected that the orphanage director, who runs one of an estimated 600-plus orphanages in Haiti, was making a profit by using children to garner donations and fees from dubious adoptions.

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Orphanages that promise a better life for children may appear attractive to poor families, but there is often no way of knowing whether the children are treated well and given access to health care and education, or whether they are being exploited, abused or trafficked. Some Haitian orphanages are run by well-intentioned people who have the means and ability to properly care for groups of vulnerable children, but many of these facilities are unregulated and routinely disregard basic human rights.

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[T]he many for-profit orphanages are using the challenging post-earthquake situation to their advantage by operating under the radar to lure children from poor families and then offer them up in the interests of international donations, dubious international adoptions or trafficking. As Frantz Thermilus, chief of Haiti's judicial police, told the New York Times, "so-called orphanages that have opened in the last couple of years" are actually "fronts for criminal organizations that take advantage of people who are homeless and hungry. And with the earthquake they see an opportunity to strike in a big way."

A recent report by the international aid organization Save the Children detailed these "recruitment" campaigns by unregulated institutions, outlining how children from poor families are then sold for profit to child traffickers and shady adoption agencies. The report criticizes the financial and material support of such agencies, often by unwitting or unknowing donors in foreign countries, noting that such support can actually lead to an increase in the separation of children from their families and result in psychological and emotional damage to children.
An important reminder to carefully consider where your humanitarian donations go . . . .