US Baptists 'knew taking children out of Haiti was wrong'

Idaho church group accused of kidnap could be sent home for trial

Haiti's leader says it's clear to him that the 10 US Baptists who tried to take 33 Haitian children out of the quake-ravaged country "knew what they were doing was wrong".

Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said some of the children have parents who are alive. The government is attempting to locate them. He says a judicial system needs to determine whether the Americans were acting in good faith – as they claim – or are child traffickers.

The Baptists are mostly from Idaho. They have been held since being arrested on Friday trying to enter the Dominican Republic with the children.

Haitian officials yesterday said they are considering sending the group back to the US for prosecution. Haiti's court system was crippled by the earthquake on 12 January, which destroyed the Justice Ministry building in the capital, Port- au-Prince, and killed many government workers.

Since their arrest on Friday near the Dominican border, the Americans have been held inside dingy concrete rooms in the same judicial police headquarters where ministers give disaster response briefings. They have not yet been charged. A lawyer representing them alleged yesterday that they were being treated poorly and that one of them, a diabetic, fainted and was taken to hospital. Attorney Jorge Puello, in the Dominican Republic, said they were not being given adequate medical care and food.

While the Baptists said they were only trying to rescue abandoned children from the disaster zone, investigators were trying to determine how they got the children, and whether any of the traffickers who have plagued the impoverished country were involved. The Idaho church group's spokeswoman, Laura Silsby, conceded that they had not obtained the proper Haitian documents, but told the Associated Press that they were "just trying to do the right thing" amid the chaos.

Aid workers who interviewed the children said that some of them have surviving parents and were desperate to be reunited with their families. The Baptists' "Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission" was described as an effort to save abandoned, traumatised children. Their plan was to take 100 children by bus to a hotel in Cabarete, a beach resort in the Dominican Republic. But they were stopped at the border for not having the right paperwork and were returned to Port-au-Prince.

Haiti's overwhelmed government has halted all adoptions, unless they were in motion before the earthquake, because of fears that orphaned or lost children are more vulnerable than ever to being seized and sold. Sex trafficking has been rampant in Haiti. The children taken by the Baptists are now being cared for in an orphanage run by the Austrian-based organisation SOS Children's Villages.

Its spokesman, George Willeit, said workers were searching for their families. "One nine-year-old girl was crying, and saying, 'I am not an orphan. I still have my parents.' And she thought she was going on a summer camp or... something like that [when she was taken]," he said.

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