An orphanage where the director was accused by U.S. missionaries of not feeding children and selling donated goods was closed Friday in a rare crackdown by Haitian authorities.
Police officers and child welfare officials sealed off the unpaved street in front of the Son of God orphanage and 46 children who lived there were loaded into a UNICEF bus and taken to new homes. Police also took the daughter of the orphanage's founder in for questioning.
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The Son of God orphanage is a three-story building in Carrefour, a densely packed and dusty city along the edge of the sea to the west of downtown Port-au-Prince. The director, Maccene Hypolitte, was arrested in July on suspicion of involvement in child trafficking based on allegations presented by U.S. missionaries. Under the Haitian legal system he has been jailed pending a judicial investigation and has not been charged.
The report compiled by a coalition of five U.S. Christian missions and the aid group Catholic Relief Services alleges that Hypolitte had offered to let a missionary take a child away to receive medical care in exchange for a payment of $1,250, a figure that was later raised to $2,000. The missionary, working with Haitian authorities, returned later with part of the payment and Hypolitte was arrested.
His wife, Marie Andree Hypolitte, has been running the orphanage with the couple's 30-year-old daughter, and she denied any wrongdoing. She said the American missionaries have accused them of trafficking and abuse because they want to take over the business.
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The U.S. missionaries who raised the original complaints welcomed the closure.
Seth Barnes, executive director of one of the groups, Adventures in Missions, based in Gainesville, Georgia, said he and workers at six other organizations learned of the problems after visiting Son of God last year to check on donations of clothes and other goods and to see if the children needed any help.
Barnes said they found that donated clothes had gone missing and donated food disappeared from storerooms even as the children appeared to be going hungry. He said some kids simply vanished without any records or adequate explanation from the staff of the orphanage.
Barnes described conditions as "horrific" and said they began complaining to local authorities.
"We knew as of a year ago that there was a serious problem," he said.
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