Naivete and Best Intentions or Trafficking in Children For Religious Purposes?
By Jodi Jacobson | Editor, RH Reality Check
The term "trafficking in children" conjures up the worst of all possible scenarios...bad people taking children away from their families for nefarious purposes, such as the labor or sex trade.
But can children be trafficked for religious purposes by deeply misguided people who think they are doing "good?"
According to the United Nations, human trafficking is defined as:
“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation".
As I hear more about the story of the group of Baptist church members from two congregations in Idaho that attempted to take 33 children across the border into the Dominican Republic without papers and absent any legal process, it strikes me that in fact they were trafficking these children for religious purposes.
The first reports on the group suggested that the children were orphans and that the American Baptist group was "just trying to help." According to the Washington Post:
One of the detained Baptists, Laura Silsby, told the Associated Press that the group had not obtained the proper Haitian documents to take the children. But she explained that the group was "just trying to do the right thing" to help.
But the road to hell is, as they say, paved with good intentions, and this response struck me, from the beginning, as deeply naive and even dangerous. Even if the children were orphaned and even if the country was devastated by an earthquake, you do not--you can not--just parachute in from Idaho and take children out of their country with no process, no permission, no legal review, no effort to find or communicate with any living relatives just because you think it is the right thing to do.
It turns out, however, that most if not all of the children were not orphans and in fact have relatives--parents, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, grandparents--alive in Haiti. Some had been separated from their families in the aftermath of the earthquake, some may have lost one or both parents but still had extended family. Some had been brought by their own parents to orphanages where, the parents apparently hoped, they would get priority for scarce food supplies. In the aftermath of such a devastating national disaster, people do what they can to survive until they can regain a stable footing. Placing children in orphanages is one such strategy.
But the Baptist group went one further, because they were actually in direct contact with the parents of some of the children.
Several parents of the children in Callebas, a quake-wracked Haitian village near the capital, told The Associated Press Wednesday they had handed over their children willingly because they were unable to feed or clothe their children and the American missionaries promised to give them a better life.
What possessed the American Baptist group to try take them away from parents likely still in shock, and out of the country so swiftly, without permission from authorities? Religious beliefs, it seems, drove this group to feel it was above the law, but also to take these children for the purpose of converting the children to their own form of Christianity.
About half of all Haitians identify as Roman Catholic, about 15 percent as Baptist, 8 percent Pentecostal and 3 percent Adventist, with the rest identifying as Muslim, Christian Scientist, Mormon or other religious affilations.
The majority of Haitians, however, practice voodoo alongside Christianity (most commonly with Catholicism), and the voodoo religion keeps a strong hold on the beliefs, traditions, and worship practices of the population. In short, voodoo holds that all living things--from people to trees and plants--have spirits. According to a report by the U.S. State Department, voodoo is frowned upon by the elite, conservative Catholics, and Protestants.
The voodoo religion, adopted from practices in Africa brought to Haiti by slaves, is one aspect of "animist" religious practices which the Catholic church and evangelicals have long sought to banish from Africa, Haiti and elsewhere, because they are seen as incompatible with true Christianity.
But "true Christianity" is what the American Baptist group wanted these children to practice. For example, a flier used for fund raising purposes by the group in Idaho states that:
NLCR is praying and seeking people who have a heart for God and a desire to share God’s love with these precious children, helping them heal and find new life in Christ.
The flier also suggests this may not have been the only trip they intended to take children out of Haiti. Their flier states:
Given the urgent needs from this earthquake, God has laid upon
our hearts the need to go now vs. waiting until the permanent facility is built. He has provided an interim solution in nearby Cabarete, where we will be leasing a 45 room hotel and converting it into an orphanage until the building of the NLCR is complete. This interim location will enable us to provide a loving environment for up to 150 children, from infants to 12 years old.
Moreover, the New York Times story from today reports that
some of [the] parents said the Baptists had promised simply to educate the youngsters in the Dominican Republic, and said the children would be able to return to Haiti to visit their families.
Was it clear to the parents what exactly these missionaries had in mind? It doesn't seem so. Isn't it a form of coercion to ask people so devastated by a tragedy to given up their children for some unknown "better life" without offering to better their lives right there? Why take them away? And if your intention is to bring these children to the DR and put them up for adoption to "loving Christian homes," how does telling their parents they are just going to get an education and can "come back to Haiti to visit" make you much different than the labor or sex trafficker who promises a woman that she is going to find lucrative work abroad in a new industry, only to be trafficked for other purposes? While these children might be adopted to "good homes" that does not obviate the lies, deception and abduction in which the group engaged to secure access to these children.
These children were clearly being abducted for the purposes of religious conversion, a strategy that may have been indirectly propelled by a broader religious movement to expand adoption internationally for the purposes of religious conversion.
A report in the Associated Baptist Press, for example, quotes Russell Moore, senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as decrying the efforts of the Idaho Baptist group to "remove children from earthquake-stricken Haiti without proper documentation [because it] could give a black eye to a budding movement of evangelicals who view adoption as a means of spreading the gospel."
ABP relays Moore's reaction upon hearing the news of the 10 Americans being held in Haiti:
"I thought, 'Oh no, this is going to cause all kinds of derision to the orphan-care movement and to what the Holy Spirit is doing in churches all across America and all over the world in having a heart for orphans,'" Moore said, sitting in as guest host for seminary president Al Mohler.
Last year Moore published a book titled Adopted for Life calling on Christians to adopt children as a "Great Commission priority." On Feb. 26-27, the seminary in Louisville, Ky., is sponsoring an "Adopting for Life" conference aimed at creating "a culture of adoption" in families and churches.
"The Bible tells us that human families are reflective of an eternal fatherhood (Eph. 3:14-15)," says a website promoting the event. "We know, then, what human fatherhood ought to look like on the basis of how Father God behaves toward us. But the reverse is also true. We see something of the way our God is fatherly toward us through our relationships with our own human fathers. And so Jesus tells us that in our human father's provision and discipline we get a glimpse of God's active love for us (Matt. 7:9-11; cf. Heb. 12:5-7). The same is at work in adoption."
This is sensitive territory. Untold numbers of children languish in orphanages in countries throughout the world, waiting for a safe and secure home. And when a child is without parents or any family and has no recourse, it is assumed that the best thing for that child is to be placed in a loving home through adoption.
But the link between adoption and prosyletization is troubling. In Haiti, for example, I would imagine that parents, rather than being so bereft of food, shelter, water, health care and other profoundly basic needs that they feel compelled to give their children to orphanages or to strangers promising them a "better home," never to see them again, would prefer to be assisted right there to rebuild their lives, maintain their families intact, raise their children according to their own traditions and see them thrive.
But learning about their own heritage and history is not part of the "gospel-driven" religious movement. Moore, for example, is the father of two children adopted from a Russian orphanage.
In his book, Moore said when he and his wife were adopting their boys they were encouraged by social workers and family friends to "teach the children about their cultural heritage."
"We have done just that," he wrote.
"Now, what most people probably meant by this counsel is for us to teach our boys Russian folk tales and Russian songs, observing Russian holidays, and so forth," Moore explained. "But as we see it, that's not their heritage anymore, and we hardly want to signal to them that they are strangers and aliens, even welcome ones, in our home. We teach them about their heritage, yes, but their heritage as Mississippians."
Moore and others, therefore, have strongly criticized the tactics of the Idaho Baptist group in large part because they are concerned about the backlash against their own efforts to expand "gospel-driven" adoption. .
"I'm worried that this news is going to give a black eye to the orphan-care movement in the same way that some of the really rambunctious, lawbreaking aspects of the right-to-life protester movement did to the pro-life movement," Moore said on Monday's program.
"[It] is going to cause people to have increased skepticism toward what I think is a genuine movement of the Spirit of God among God's people."
Similar sentiments were expressed in an interview conducted by Moore with Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, and David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.
Medefind, a former aide to President George W. Bush who led the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, now heads an alliance of orphan-serving organizations and churches promoting Christian orphan and foster care and adoption and adoption ministry.
The group's mission statement says it exists to "motivate and unify the body of Christ to live out God's mandate to care for the orphan." The Alliance's vision statement is "every orphan experiencing God's unfailing love and knowing Jesus as Savior."
Its easy to get caught up in the moment of devastation to say that rescuing children by taking them "away" from their parents and their country is the first, best response. According to the New York Times, for example, the Americans, their lawyers and members of their churches have said they are innocent of any wrongdoing, and said the imbroglio was "a huge misunderstanding."
In an interview earlier this week, Ms. Silsby said the group had come to Haiti to rescue children orphaned by the earthquake, and that “our hearts were in the right place.”
But was it really, given their own materials? And what does that really mean when you have a religious agenda for children--many of them with living family-- who are being taken away from everything they know to serve your own notion of what is right in the world and your own notion of "God?"
"The Real crux of the issue," writes Anthea Butler at Religion Dispatches, is this:
These ten do-gooders walked into the trap many well meaning white evangelical Christians fall into: those poor brown/black/yellow/red people need My help. Jesus wants Me to help them. To much of White American Evangelical Christianity the We often means Me. It’s what God Called Me to do. It’s what God would want Me to do. The problem with the Me mentality of much of conservative Evangelical Christianity is that they often can’t see the We—the people of Haiti—who love their kids so much they’re willing to let some white people who claim to be “Christians” take them away to what they promise will be “a better life.”
It is unquestionably true that the majority of adoptive parents raise their children in their own faith. It is a different issue, however, to me at least, when you seek to rescue children, legally or not, for the express purpose of expanding the number of believers in your faith....removing all trace of their original heritage. It strikes me as similarly troubling to providing aid to people in need in order to bring them into your "religious fold."
And it also seems that similarly to those who call themselves "pro-life' but perpetuate violence against medical doctors and their clients, an approach that suggests the "religious ends" justify the means in removing children from a country will only lead to more coercion, abduction, and falsehood in the effort to "rescue" children from a culture and a religion that does not comport with your own.
To me that feels like trafficking children for religious purposes.
This article was found at:
Awearness Blog - February 1, 2010
Want to adopt a Haitian orphan? WAIT!
I admit that my husband and I had "the talk." The "Can we adopt a child from Haiti?" talk. Of course it was out of sheer love for the children who need help, but we quickly snapped back to reality: Now is not the time to get in line for a child.
Apparently some people think otherwise. Ten Americans were arrested over the weekend for child trafficking out of Haiti. Of course they say they were just trying to help by scooping up children and taking them across the border to an orphanage, but hey, I think that is the definition of child trafficking.
I get it. I also want to jump on a plane and bring a bunch of kids home with me. I want to clothe them, feed them and love them. But I know that they are Haitian and Haiti is their home. I also know that people have been displaced. Children were at school when the earthquake hit. How do we know if their mother was one of the people flown out of the country for medical help? Or is in the refugee camp on the other side of the city? We can't know all of the facts. The Independent has a good Q&A on the ethics of disaster adoption.
When we've had conversations about adoption, I've found myself focusing on whether or not I have the emotional strength to guide a child along the path. A newborn or an older child will question their adoption at some point. I can only imagine the emotional wounds that will need to be addressed for all the people of Haiti, much less a child airlifted from their homeland and extended family.
But I continue to reject the notion that I know how to provide a "better life" for a child. I think that once you start to believe that you can overlook the formalities that go with international adoption, like, say making sure that no one in their biological family can care for them. Airlifts of children have happened before, such as Operation Peter Pan, and some of those children are grown now and mad as hell about the thought of the same thing happening to Haitian children.
Instead of running out to adopt a Haitian child, I suggest giving to an organization that is focusing on helping to rebuild Haiti and reuniting families. There will be a time when adoptions will be the answer for some children. Until then, let's wait.
This article was found at: http://awearnessblog.com/2010/02/want-to-adopt-a-haitian-orphan.php
New York Times - August 3, 2010
After Haiti Quake, the Chaos of U.S. Adoptions
By GINGER THOMPSON
BAXTER, Minn. — Beechestore and Rosecarline, two Haitian teenagers in the throes of puberty, were not supposed to be adopted.
At the end of last year, American authorities denied the petition of a couple here, Marc and Teresa Stroot, to adopt the brother and sister after their biological father opposed relinquishing custody.
Reluctantly, Mr. and Mrs. Stroot, a special-needs teaching assistant and a sales executive with four children of their own, decided to move on.
Then on Jan. 12, a devastating earthquake toppled Haiti’s capital and set off an international adoption bonanza in which some safeguards meant to protect children were ignored.
Leading the way was the Obama administration, which responded to the crisis, and to the pleas of prospective adoptive parents and the lawmakers assisting them, by lifting visa requirements for children in the process of being adopted by Americans.
Although initially planned as a short-term, small-scale evacuation, the rescue effort quickly evolved into a baby lift unlike anything since the Vietnam War. It went on for months; fell briefly under the cloud of scandal involving 10 Baptist missionaries who improperly took custody of 33 children; ignited tensions between the United States and child protection organizations; and swept up about 1,150 Haitian children, more than were adopted by American families in the previous three years, according to interviews with government officials, adoption agencies and child advocacy groups.
Among the first to get out of Haiti were Beechestore and Rosecarline. “It’s definitely a miracle,” Mrs. Stroot said of their arrival here, “because this wasn’t going to happen.”
Under a sparingly used immigration program, called humanitarian parole, adoptions were expedited regardless of whether children were in peril, and without the screening required to make sure they had not been improperly separated from their relatives or placed in homes that could not adequately care for them.
Some Haitian orphanages were nearly emptied, even though they had not been affected by the quake or licensed to handle adoptions. Children were released without legal documents showing they were orphans and without regard for evidence suggesting fraud. In at least one case, two siblings were evacuated even though American authorities had determined through DNA tests that the man who had given them to an orphanage was not a relative.
“I feel a weird sense of survivor’s guilt,” said Dawn Shelton of Minnesota, who hopes to adopt the siblings. “So many people died in Haiti, and I was able to get the life I’ve wanted.”
In other cases, children were given to families who had not been screened or to families who no longer wanted them.
The results are playing out across the country. At least 12 children, brought here without being formally matched with new families, have spent months in a Pennsylvania juvenile care center while Red Cross officials try to determine their fate. An unknown number of children whose prospective parents have backed out of their adoptions are in foster care. While the authorities said they knew of only a handful of such cases, adoption agents said they had heard about as many as 20, including that of an 8-year-old girl who was bounced from an orphanage in Haiti to a home in Ithaca, N.Y., to a juvenile care center in Queens after the psychologist who had petitioned to adopt her decided she could not raise a young child.
Dozens of children, approaching the age of 16 or older, are too old to win legal permanent status as adoptees, prompting lawmakers in Congress to consider raising the age limit to 18.
Meanwhile, other children face years of legal limbo because they have arrived with so little proof of who they are, how they got here and why they have been placed for adoption that state courts are balking at completing their adoptions.
One Kansas lawyer said he satisfied a judge’s questions about whether the Haitian boy his clients had adopted was an orphan by broadcasting announcements on Haitian radio stations over two days, urging any relatives of the child to come forward if they wanted to claim him.
Another couple seeking to adopt, Daniel and Jess McKee of Mansfield, Pa., said Owen, 3, who can dribble a basketball better than children twice his age, arrived from Haiti with an invalid birth certificate — it shows him as 4 — a letter in French signed by a Haitian mayor that declared him an orphan, and stacks of handwritten medical records from his time in a Haitian orphanage.
Their prospective daughter, Emersyn, also 3, came with no documents at all.
“As things stand,” Mrs. McKee said, “I’m basically going to show up in court and tell a judge, ‘These kids are who I say they are,’ and hope that he takes my word for it, because if he asks me to prove it, I can’t.”
Later, she added, “I guess the government said, ‘Let’s just get the kids out of Haiti, and we’ll worry about the details later.’ ”
Decisions Made in Haste
Administration officials defended the humanitarian parole program, saying it had strict limits and several levels of scrutiny, including reviews of adoption petitions by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security in Washington and Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.
But they also acknowledged that the administration’s priority was getting children out of harm’s way, not the safeguards the United States is obligated to enforce under international law.
Matt Chandler, a spokesman at the Department of Homeland Security, said the evacuations were done in the best interests of children who faced “an uncertain and likely dangerous situation that could worsen by the day, if not by the hour.”
Whitney Reitz, who oversaw the parole program at the Department of Homeland Security, acknowledged that the decisions were hastily made.
“We did something so fast,” Ms. Reitz said at a conference in New York in March. “We did something that normally takes a couple of years and that we normally do with excruciating care and delay. There’s so much time for deliberation in the way the program normally goes, and we condensed all that into a matter of days.”
There is no evidence to suggest that the evacuations were driven by anything other than the best of intentions. And with untold numbers of unaccompanied children in Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest country, left fending for themselves or languishing in institutions, it is not hard to make the case that those who were evacuated are better off than they would have been in the hemisphere’s poorest country.
Many now live in the kind of quiet, scenic towns depicted in Norman Rockwell paintings. They are enrolled in school for the first time. They have grown inches, gotten eyeglasses and had their cavities filled.
And they are learning what it feels like to have a mother and father wake them up every morning and tuck them into bed every night.
But child protection advocates like Marlène Hofstetter at Terre des Hommes, an international child advocacy organization, contend that those ends do not justify the means. Rushing children out of familiar environments in a crisis can worsen their trauma, she said. Expediting adoptions in countries like Haiti — where it is not uncommon for people to turn children over to orphanages for money — violates children’s rights and leaves them at risk of trafficking, she added.
“I’m certain that one day these children are going to ask questions about what happened to them,” Ms. Hofstetter said. “I’m not sure that telling them their lifestyles were better in the United States is going to be a satisfactory answer.”
Even though the humanitarian parole program has officially ended, it remains a source of tensions between American-run orphanages in Haiti and international child protection organizations.
The advocates, led by Unicef, have refused to place children who have lost their parents or been separated from them in some foreign-run orphanages, fearing they would be improperly put into the adoption pipeline before they had the chance to be reunited with surviving relatives.
And the pro-adoption groups, led by the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, accuse the advocates of using endless, often unsuccessful, attempts to locate the children’s biological relatives to deny tens of thousands of needy Haitian orphans the opportunity to be placed in loving homes.
“Unicef’s idea is to house children in tents, and tell them that maybe in five years their relatives will be found,” said Dixie Bickel, who has run a Haitian orphanage called God’s Littlest Angels for more than two decades. “What kind of plan is that?”
Washington Feels Pressure
Concerns about child trafficking led China, after its 2008 earthquake, and Indonesia, after the 2004 tsunami, to suspend all international adoptions, despite intense pressure by pro-adoption groups in the United States, according to Chuck Johnson at the National Council for Adoption.
After January’s quake, Haiti, though, was hardly able to stand on its own feet, much less push back, Haitian officials acknowledged. Orphanage directors with political connections in Washington said they saw an opportunity to turn the tragedy into a miracle. Some issued urgent pleas, saying that the children in their care had had been left without shelter, and that the orphanages’ limited stocks of food and water made them prime targets for looting.
In the United States, adoptive parents contacted anyone they knew who might have money, private planes and political connections to help them get children out of Haiti. Evangelical Christian churches, which have increasingly taken up orphan care as a tenet of their faith, were also mobilized. Before long, legislators and administration officials were getting calls from constituents.
Senator Mary L. Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat and adoptive mother, has been a champion of the cause and pushed administration officials to help bring Haitian children here after the quake. “I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if there are some errors that were made,” Senator Landrieu said in an interview about the rescue effort, “but you want to err on the side of keeping children safe.”
On Jan. 18, less than a week after the earthquake hit, the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, announced that the United States would lift visa requirements for those orphans whose adoptions had already been approved by Haitian authorities and those who had been matched with prospective parents in the United States.
The requirements were written so broadly, adoption experts said, that almost any child in an orphanage could qualify as long as there were e-mails, letters or photographs showing that the child had some connection to a family in the United States. And by the time Ms. Napolitano announced the program, military flights filled with children were already in the air.
“The standard of proof was very low,” said Kathleen Strottman, executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, a nonprofit group that is a leading voice on American adoption policy. “That’s why the administration ended the program as quickly as they did,” she added, “because they worried the longer it was open, the more opportunities they would give people to manufacture evidence.”
Obstacles to Adoption Vanish
Over the next several weeks, orphanages big and small were nearly emptied, whether or not they had been affected by the earthquake.
The staff at Children of the Promise, about 90 miles from Haiti’s capital, barely felt the temblor. But 39 of the 50 children there were approved for humanitarian parole, even though none of them had been affected by the disaster and the orphanage had not yet received the proper license to place children.
Rosemika, 2; Alex, 1; and Roselinda, 1, offer a look at the typical humanitarian parole case. Rosemika’s mother died before the quake. The other two children were given up for adoption because their parents could not provide for them.
Jenny and Jamie Groen, a missionary couple from Minnesota who were volunteering at the orphanage, had fallen in love with the children and decided to adopt them.
Under normal circumstances the couple would have had to get special permission from Haiti’s president to adopt because they are both 28, and the government requires at least one of the prospective parents to be older than 35.
After the quake, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive summarily signed off on their adoption — as he did with all humanitarian parole petitions submitted to him by the United States — without checking the Groens’ qualifications.
Meanwhile, the couple rushed back to the United States for the background checks and home study their own country required for them to take children into their care. And they submitted e-mails, photographs and a Dec. 2 newspaper clipping to prove that their commitment to adopt the children predated the earthquake.
During a recent visit to the orphanage in Haiti, surrounded by peasant hovels and sugar-cane fields, Ms. Groen, now pregnant, said she and her husband were still trying to absorb how quickly they were going from an empty nest to a full one.
It has been a whirlwind for the children’s biological relatives as well. The girls’ relatives still regularly visit the orphanage. “That’s the thing that’s so different about Haiti,” Ms. Groen said. “It’s not full of unwanted children. It’s full of children whose families are too poor to provide for them.”
That appeared to be the predicament shared by Beechestore, 14, and Rosecarline, 13, who are going through all the turmoil of adolescence, exacerbated by a confusing legal tug of war.
In the spring of 2008, their biological father had told the American authorities that he had placed the children for adoption only because he thought they would be educated in the United States and then returned to Haiti. Once he understood the implications of adoption, he refused to give them up.
In November 2009, American authorities formally notified the Stroots that their adoption petition had been denied.
By then, the Stroots were spent — emotionally and financially. The effort to adopt the children had taken four years and $40,000. Rather than appeal, the Minnesota couple decided it would be best for everyone to end their efforts.
Then the earthquake hit. Homeland Security, which earlier had denied visas to the children, reversed course without consulting the children’s biological father or the Stroots. “One day, we’re being told we can’t have the kids,” Mrs. Stroot said. “The next minute, we’re getting a call telling us we need to get them winter coats. It was crazy.”
In late July, a Minnesota judge awarded the Stroots legal custody of the children. Neither the previous denial nor the views of the children’s biological father were mentioned during the proceeding, the Stroots said.
Since then, the newly expanded family has moved on to more mundane matters, like dentist appointments, vaccinations and back-to-school shopping.
“God got done in 10 days,” Mr. Stroot said, “something human beings couldn’t do in years.”
Erin Siegal contributed reporting from Oakland, Calif. Barclay Walsh contributed research from Washington.
This article was found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/04/world/americas/04adoption.html
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