Haiti Q&A: The ethics of disaster adoption


Q. How many orphans are there in Haiti?

A. There were already about 380,000 orphaned children in Haiti before the earthquake. The Caribbean island, which has a population of about 10 million, may now have more than a million children without parents.

Q. Could any of them be evacuated to safety, or even to a better life abroad?

A. Adoption agencies around the world have been flooded by enquiries from the public about adopting Haitian orphans. The Joint Council on International Children's Services (JCICS), a US advocacy organisation, says it has received 150 enquiries about Haitian adoption in the past three days, compared with about 10 a month usually. Some children – who were already in the final stages of being adopted by overseas parents when the quake struck – have already been airlifted out of Haiti, and the US has eased restrictions as a humanitarian gesture, as have France and Canada.

A chartered Dutch plane will arrive in Haiti today to airlift 109 more children, most of whom have already been matched with families in the Netherlands but whose adoptions have now been fast-tracked. Meanwhile, 53 orphans have already been flown to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Indiana-based Kids Alive International, which runs orphanages around the world, is expected to take 50 Haitian orphans to group homes in the Dominican Republic. The Catholic Church in Miami has asked the US government to allow thousands of orphaned Haitians to settle in America, in a scheme modelled on an initiative for Cuba, Operation Pedro Pan, in the Sixties. Under that scheme, 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children, offspring of parents who opposed Fidel Castro's government, began new lives in the US.

Q. Is it ethical to relocate children from disaster zones?

A. There are honourable precedents such as the Kindertransport programme during the Second World War, which saved 10,000 Jewish children by bringing them from Nazi Germany to Britain. But children's advocacy groups warn against mass airlifts of youngsters overseas in the wake of natural disasters. They cite the 2004 tsunami and the Kashmir earthquake in 2005, arguing that the clamour surrounding children created a legal and ethical free-for-all.

Given the chaotic state of communications in Haiti right now, a big fear is that some children may be shipped overseas without proper checks to see if any extended family members are alive.

As for the impact on small children, some experts believe foreign adoptions, or being taken into care in an unfamiliar environment, could be psychologically traumatic. SOS Children's Villages, the children's charity has issued a warning that uprooting children in such situations can be stressful and unsettling, and lead to long-term psychological problems for infants who are expected to grow 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 said. "Sometimes international adoption is the right solution for a child, but far more often it is not."

Adoption expert Professor René Hoksbergen, of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, also warns that the hurried evacuation of children may send the wrong signal, encouraging people to assume that children in chaotic situations can be easily relocated. Some of the children evacuated from Cuba under Operation Pedro Pan ended up stranded in remote parts of the US, far from other Cubans, and have since spoken of how the experience scarred them.

Q. Is there a better way?

A. Charities argue that it is more important to register all children, trace any extended family members, and work to rebuild the country rather than removing youngsters from their homeland. Unicef says its priority is to ensure that children affected by the earthquake get the help they need. "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," says the JCICS. "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."

Sarah Cassidy

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor