The Haitian government is taking a tough stance on the group who allegedly tried to abduct 33 children from their parents and home country.
Ronda Kaysen: The Baptist church group that tried to take 33 children out of Haiti last week has been charged with child abduction and criminal conspiracy, charges that could carry a 15-year prison sentence.
Port-au-Prince lost judges, lawyers, courthouses and its main prison in the January 12 earthquake that devastated the country's capital. But by deciding to move forward with this case, the government is showing that its justice system is intact and sending a message that Haitian kids are not free for the taking.
The Haitian government is absolutely right to take a hard line on the case. The nation has a dark history of human trafficking and there have been reports that Haitian children have been snatched from hospitals.
First, the children involved were not all orphans. The group's leader, Laura Silsby, personally met with many of their parents and lied to them, telling them that she had the government's permission to take their children to the Dominican Republic. She promised them education, a soccer field and a swimming pool. In reality, she had only vague plans for their immediate future.
God, it seems, was steering her decisions. "We have been sent by the Lord to rescue these children, and if it's in the Lord's plan we will be successful," Silsby told a human rights activist in Haiti before rounding up the children, ages two months to 12 years old. Her arrest at the Dominican border suggests that God didn't want her taking kids out of their own country.
The group, New Life Children's Refuge, behaved with reckless arrogance. Their leader claims they were following God by carrying the children out of their ravaged homeland and into supposedly better lives. But to many Haitians, a deeply religious people, the outsiders' plans were very mortal, inconsistent, and flawed.
"It is clear now that they knew what they were doing was wrong," Prime Minister Max Bellerive told reporters earlier this week.
They were also dishonest. Clint Henry, senior pastor at Silsby's Idaho congregation, Central Valley Baptist Church, told me on Monday, "We're not involved in international adoption."
But international adoption appears to be exactly what New Life was involved in. A Web site for the group said that the children would be in a "loving, Christian, home-like environment" and be eligible for adoption with the help of American adoption agencies.
Children who've lost parents do best when they are placed with extended family members, in their home communities, and in their home countries, Lisa Laumann, an associate vice president for child protection at Save the Children, told momlogic.
International adoption has its place in that equation, but by no means should rogue foreigners be showing up in Haiti and taking matters into their own hands. The Haitian government has the right -- and responsibility -- to make an example of the ones who do.
The plans that Silsby and her group laid out were sketchy, at best. There was no orphanage in the Dominican Republic. They had vague plans to put the kids in a resort while they built a more permanent setting for them. It's unclear who they were working with and what those people's intentions were.
And then, there's the issue of Laura Silsby herself. The New York Times reported that in addition to calling herself a missionary, she's also a businesswoman back in Idaho with employees who've recently complained about unpaid wages. The state has placed liens on her company bank account.
After the group learned that they'd been charged, they smiled at reporters and held a prayer circle. In every interview with the press, they've expressed their resolve. God, they say, will set the record straight.
Well, the record looks pretty straight to me: It looks like 10 ignorant Americans with no prior knowledge or experience with international adoption showed up, broke the law by plucking children from their families and tried to smuggle them out of the country.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, The New York Observer, Babble.com and AM New York. She lives in New Jersey with her family. Follow her on Twitter.|