Adoption agencies warned off Haiti's orphans

For newly orphaned children wandering the streets of Haiti's capital begging for food, it sounds like a dream come true. But agencies trying to evacuate children whose parents died in last week's earthquake have been criticised for bypassing proper adoption processes to rush them to families offering new lives in the West.

The Dutch government responded to the concerns yesterday, saying that "we do not simply pick up children off the streets and bring them to Holland to be adopted", after it emerged a chartered plane had been sent to Port-au-Prince to airlift 109 children to Amsterdam to be placed with local couples.

Adoption agencies collaborating on the airlift were unavailable for comment on the legal status of the children, but a spokesman for the Dutch justice ministry said they were "all known to us", and that the children were in the process of being adopted before the quake. However the move had not been rubber-stamped by a Haitian judge.

Children's advocacy groups have warned against new procedures instilled in the face of an emergency, saying recent natural disasters, particularly the Kashmir earthquake in 2005, created a free-for-all in which thousands of infants were rounded up and airlifted to nations without their family background being properly checked.

"While both airlifts and new adoptions are based on valid concerns and come from an obviously loving heart, neither option is considered viable by any credible child welfare organisation," said the Joint Council on International Children's Services, a US advocacy group. "Bringing children into the US either by airlift or new adoption during a time of national emergency can open the door for fraud, abuse and trafficking."

The number of orphaned children in Haiti already stood at around 380,000 before last weekend's disaster. However, the lack of proper communications, and a chaotic situation on the ground, has raised fears that children may be shipped overseas without anyone making sure there are no extended family members alive.

In a statement yesterday, the charity SOS Children's Villages stressed to couples thinking of adopting children from Haiti that the move can be stressful and unsettling, and lead to long-term psychological problems for infants who have grown up in an alien culture.

"When you see any child who has lost their family on the news, your natural instinct is to want to go and pick them up and cherish them," it read. "You should not feel guilty about this instinct, it is part of being human and most of us share it. Sometimes international adoption is the right solution for a child but far more often it is not. Instead we suggest you do something positive about your protective feelings for these children."

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