To hear some people talk about Laura Silsby, she is a missionary. But
I am not sure about that. She may have been on a mission alright, but
not a pious one.
The Idaho woman has gotten her two minutes of fame and now she and her
nine other cohorts are sitting inside a Haitian jail. I don’t wish bad
on anybody, but these people came to Haiti in the aftermath of the
earthquake last month and tried to pass themselves off as child
advocates and saviors. They coerced parents by convincing them that
they can provide a better life for their children. Of course any
parent would want what’s best for their children, particularly in
those hard times in Haiti.
To be sure there are legitimate reasons for wanting to help orphaned
or poor children in Haiti. Of course children in Haiti need to be out
of the danger and rubble, placed into protective custody, and have
their needs for shelter, medicine, food, psychological support and
community support met – all those need to be put forward first.
The case of the “American missionaries” has dominated the news for a
while. What the American and international media have failed to
realize is that the Haitian government acted accordingly.
Silsby and her group were arrested at the Dominican Republic border
when they tried to take 33 children out of Haiti. They feigned
ignorance and insisted that they didn’t know they were doing something
illegal. By all accounts, that’s not true. They were told over and
over that without the proper adoption papers, they would be arrested
and tried for child trafficking.
What they thought was that during the chaos the government would not
be able to monitor anyone, let alone some do-gooder Americans who
wanted to save some Haitian children. Well, surprisingly, the Haitian
government saw this case as a cause célèbre, took advantage of the
international media focus on Haiti, and brought the justice apparatus
to bear. I was amazed to see how quickly the judge convened the case
and charged the group with children trafficking and other felonies.
The plight of children in Haiti is particularly difficult. They are
the most vulnerable in a very vulnerable society. So too often, people
who are tasked to protect them end up abusing them.
According to Anne-Christine d’Adesky, a children rights advocate,
adoption is too fraught now with the current chaos: the lack of
Haitian administrative capacity or any ability to recover paperwork or
birth certificates and documents lost in the rubble, no time to
properly assess and vet cases to know if children are truly orphaned,
etc. It is beyond the capacity of the Haitian government in this
moment to correctly process such a large number of cases of orphaned,
missing or vulnerable children. But the interim step could be done.
There are adoption agencies in place, with longtime experience in
Haiti, to help quickly process Unaccompanied Refugee Minors and render
them to safety outside Haiti (for a set period of time), to get them
medical care and other support with the plan being to then actively
seek to link them to relatives, family, or close friends of family who
may have survived and may emerge in the coming weeks and months who
are eager to care for these children.
I’d like to see the Haitian government take this a step further by
ensuring that many of the children do get a chance at a better life.
The office responsible for adoption should be expanded and people who
want to adopt children can do so without much red tape.
I know the government is up to its neck in challenges and sometimes I
don’t think they know where to begin. What I’d like to see is a
concerted effort to apply the law and take courageous action when
necessary. The days of doing business as usual are over. In the past,
Silsby and her friends would have bribed an official and they would
have been given the children and not even known where the jail was,
let alone spent more than a week in custody.
The next few years are going to be momentous. The government will have
to apply the law and not let people do as they please. Officials will
have to make sure that they plan and construct a new capital city.
They need to make Port-au-Prince an eminent domain case and do the
courageous thing. Rene Preval has said that he didn’t reach out to the
population because he didn’t want to play politics. I agree with the
latter part of this. But he needs to not play politics with the
reconstruction and planning of one of the Caribbean’s storied cities
Preval and his administration should lay the groundwork for the way
Haiti is going to do business in the future. We do everything by the
law or else it won’t get done. I’m not so naïve to think that this
will happen overnight or people won’t challenge it. But when they do,
the whole apparatus of the law should be applied. I remember some 20
years ago, Jerry Rawlings, the president of Ghana initiated an
anti-corruption campaign in that West African country. Rawlings
executed three men who were found guilty of corruption. One of the men
shot at a beach in the capital city of Accra was his cousin. Rawlings
was widely criticized for this move. But today, Ghana is an African
I don’t know if Preval needs to go that far, but so far his government
has done the right thing with these “missionaries”. Now it’s time to
continue doing the right thing.
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