Ruh Roh: Americans Charged With Kidnapping 33 Haitian Kids

We’ve all heard the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished” — and that’s proven to be true for 10 Americans who flew down to Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake. Recently the Haitian government arrested a group of 10 Americans, most of whom are members of a Baptist congregation in Idaho, as they tried to take 33 children on a bus into the Dominican Republic. Members of the group say they were just trying to help. But Haiti has charged each American with kidnapping, which, if convicted, carries a possible sentence of five to 15 years in prison, and criminal association, which carries three to nine years.

Yikes. International diplomacy incident, anyone? According to The New York Times, the group, led by Laura Silsby of Boise, Idaho, claimed to be taking the kids to something called The New Life Children’s Refuge in the DR, which it was either leasing or still building. The website for the Refuge promised the children would stay in a “loving Christian homelike environment” until they could be adopted through agencies in the United States, the Times said. Alas, speaking for the whole group, Pastor Paul Robert Thompson admitted they broke the law by failing to go through the proper channels.

Haiti’s tragic earthquake has created tens of thousands of orphans, to be sure. But the Haitian government insists on being careful with who is removing kids: Even before the earthquake, Haiti was a country plagued by child sex trafficking. NPR reports that a heartbreaking 2,000 children each year are trafficked out of Haiti to work as sex slaves or servants. Therefore, according to Haitian officials, even if this group of 10 Americans were well-meaning, they need to enforce the laws on child abduction because actual child traffickers may try to take advantage of the situation in Haiti right now.

But yet another problem is that several of the 33 Haitian kids — now being cared for by the SOS Children’s Village orphanage in Port-au-Prince — aren’t actual orphans. It’s terribly sad, but some desperate parents apparently put a few of the kids in the Americans’ care because the situation in Haiti is so bad. Feeding and providing a safe environment for kids in Haiti right now is surely overwhelming. But the Haitian government says, given the concerns about child trafficking, giving one’s kids up to a well-meaning American church group isn’t the right way to go about it.

Looks like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose department is likely tasked with handling such international snafus, has her work cut out for her on this one! [New York Times, NPR, NPR, NPR, BBC]