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FEBRUARY 27, 2010

Haiti's 'Orphan' Crisis
By DAVID GAUTHIER-VILLARS, MIRIAM JORDAN AND JOEL MILLMAN

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—In the aftermath of the earthquake, scores of unaccompanied Haitian children are
living in fetid tent camps here. A few miles away, Dixie Bickel, an American nurse, is having trouble filling dozens
of empty beds at her tidy orphanage.

Haiti's welfare agency stopped sending kids there on the advice of the United Nations Children's Fund, or
UNICEF, Ms. Bickel says. The UN agency worries that many children have been temporarily displaced by the
quake. Putting them in orphanages like Ms. Bickel's could lead to adoptions overseas that separate them from
family here. It also raises the risk that some might fall prey to child traffickers. But Ms. Bickel thinks those fears
are misplaced, at least in the case of her God's Littlest Angels orphanage.

"There are kids sleeping outside in the rain and they aren't allowed to come to a place with warm beds, three
meals a day, and a structured environment," says the 55-year-old Illinois native, who has been here 19 years.

The situation is a sign of how good intentions are clashing as the international community seeks to help the
Western Hemisphere's poorest nation emerge from its most debilitating disaster. The Jan. 12 earthquake
unleashed an outpouring of support that flooded Haiti with requests for adoptions.

But as relief organizations and foreign nations rush into the breach, they are growing increasingly wary of
endorsing an adoption system that has long rescued children from poverty and disease but separates them from
parents and relatives.

"We do everything in an emergency context to ensure that children and families can remain together," said Susan
Bissell, UNICEF's chief of child protection. While UNICEF doesn't rule out international adoptions, she says the
agency encourages situations "where children can remain in their communities and their culture."

She said the decision whether to put Haitian children in an orphanage rested with the country's welfare agency.

Even before the earthquake, some 400,000 children, or about one out of every 10 Haitian kids, lived in some type
of orphanage or had been farmed out to local families other than their own, according to UNICEF and other relief
organizations. Many so-called orphanages are unregulated shelters that serve more as rooming homes and do not
engage in adoptions. Of the residents, only a few thousand were actually orphans. The rest were relinquished by
parents who feared they wouldn't be able to feed and clothe their children at home.

It's a situation outsiders still struggle to comprehend. Last week, in a speech in Haiti's rubble-strewn capital,
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France would welcome Haiti's orphans, "as long as they are true orphans
and not children who are taken away from their families."

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Such goodwill can collide with what Haitians themselves feel is their best—or sometimes only—option. When
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David Aitken, an Internet entrepreneur from Provo, Utah, traveled to Haiti last year to meet a girl he was in the
process of adopting, he was shocked to find out that her mother worked at the orphanage. "When we learned the
mother was there, we thought, 'We can't adopt her.' I couldn't imagine taking a child from her mother," he recalls.

Through an interpreter, however, Mr. Aitken and his wife were persuaded that the mother's strongest desire was
to have her child raised by a U.S. family. He recalls her telling them, "You have to give my daughter a better life."

When he departed with the daughter in a van, "Her mom was smiling on the porch waving," he says. "It was
surreal."

While many ordinary Haitians are overjoyed when their children are adopted overseas, the government finds the
practice problematic.

"How can we rebuild a nation if the only chance that parents have to give their children a future is to part with
them?" said Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive in an interview.

Haiti's adoption system seems almost perversely designed to produce just such an outcome. It's very rare for true
orphans to find their way to a home overseas. That's because, as part of an attempt to combat child trafficking,
Haitian regulations require orphanages to document the ancestry of any child they want to make eligible for
adoption. Establishing the bona fides of a real orphan is much tougher than getting living parents to supply the
needed documentation. Thus, most of the 1,500 Haitian children adopted by foreigners each year leave one or
both birth parents behind.

While Haitian law prohibits birth parents from receiving remuneration for giving up their kids, subtle financial
incentives frequently creep in.

Most international adoption programs are not set up to allow parents to visit. But in Haiti, families often visit
several times in the course of an adoption process than can stretch several years. And because Haiti is much
closer to the U.S. than other major source countries such as China and Ethiopia, there's a greater tendency for the
birth parents to stay in touch with their child and the adoptive parents. The end result is that many Americans
open their wallets.

In 2005, Candace Pruett and Richard Stein of Colorado saw a picture of a girl named Keballah on a Web site for
needy Haitian children. For $50 a month, they could help support the 6-year-old girl who, according to the blurb,
"was very much loved and had a family who very much wanted her to go to school."

To the couple's surprise, they heard back from the family that what they really wanted was for the Denver family
to adopt Keballah.

Three months later, in December 2006, Ms. Pruett flew to Port-au-Prince with books and toys for Keballah and
met her mother, 26-year-old Elna. Over and over again, Elna said: "Thank you, thank you, thank you. We love
you," to Ms. Pruett for agreeing to adopt the girl.

It took about 18 months for the couple's adoption paperwork to wind through Haiti's bureaucracy. Meanwhile,
the couple sent $200 a month to the orphanage.

Today, Keballah still enjoys close contact with her Haitian mother. And whenever Ms. Pruett can, she sends
money or goods back to the family.

"I sent two 50-pound boxes of men's shirts that I bought at a yard sale for 50 cents apiece." Keballah's mother, in
turn, sold the shirts at a roadside stand.

At the Foyer de la Nouvelle Vie shelter in the district of Pétion-Ville near Port-au-Prince, director Yva Samedy
says the adoption process can take up to five years when adoptive parents don't meet minimum age or other
criteria and must seek exemptions from authorities.

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While waiting, Ms. Samedy requires foreign couples to pay $200 monthly to help feed and clothe their future
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child, a huge amount in a country where most people live on less than $1 a day.

"It's quite a sum," Ms. Samedy said as she unpacked a set of satin dresses she bought for young girls who are
about to depart from her shelter. "But that's because the cost of living is very high in Haiti and we can justify
every cent."

The monthly stipend doesn't count additional fees for things like blood tests and birth certificates. Those extra
payments average $8,000 at Ms. Samedy's shelter, and can reach $25,000.

With Haiti's annual volume of 1,500 adoptions, such fees could total an estimated $20 million each year—enough
to support hundreds of attorneys, notaries, civil servants and other facilitators.

Salnave Exantus is a successful lawyer who says he averages one adoption client per month. He is also the legal
head of Haiti's birth and death registry, known as the National Archives, without whose certification no child can
leave the country.

Mr. Exantus says that, as a lawyer, he charges $2,500 to $4,000 for each adoption case. He said he keeps a clear
separation between his work as a lawyer and his position at the National Archives. "As a lawyer, I get paid for my
work; I don't want any kickbacks."

Haiti's adoption pipeline all but ground to a halt last month,after 10 members of a church group from Idaho
rolled into the hardscrabble town of Callebasse, an hour south of the capital. Though they were complete
strangers to the villagers, they drove away with 20 local children on the promise to put them in an orphanage in
the Dominican Republic. They found 13 more children in Port au Prince.

"If they had brought three buses, they would have filled them easily," said Milien Brutus, 28, one of the adults
who sent a child. The missionaries were stopped at the border and charged with trying to remove the children
without proper documents. Two of them, including the chief organizer, Lauren Silsby, are still in detention. The
women deny any wrongdoing.

The Haitian government, acting on the advice of UNICEF, has since temporarily suspended all new adoptions,
worried that children could be snatched and spirited out of the country.

Certainly, international organizations have reason to be concerned. An estimated 2,000 Haitian children each
year are trafficked to the neighboring Dominican Republic. According to UNICEF, many of these children are
sold as child laborers or into the sex trade. Aid groups report that around 300,000 children are working as
domestic servants in private homes. Called "restaveks"—literally "stay with" in Creole— they are also often
subjected to abuse. As many as 100,000 children have been dropped by their parents at local orphanages,
structures that vary widely in quality and usually live off foreign donations.

UNICEF is among the groups eager to wean Haiti off its adoption system. This month, UNICEF Executive
Director Ann Veneman met with Mr. Bellerive, the prime minister, in Port-au-Prince and said her agency would
help Haiti develop schools and clinics—not export its children. "Otherwise, how does your country hold
together?" Ms. Veneman asked during a meeting.

But some who have spent years trying to improve conditions inside the country now feel that is a lost cause.
Margarette Saint-Fleur says she spent 15 years fighting to raise women's incomes in Haiti for various Canadian
nongovernmental organizations. Today, she is committed to helping Haitian women send their children abroad.

"I do 40 to 50 adoptions a year," says the 45-year-old Port-au-Prince native and founder of the Brebis de Saint-
Michel de L'Attalaye shelter.

Other shelter operators have also given up on helping Haiti itself.

"Haiti cannot feed its children," says Harold Nungester, a Christian missionary from the U.S. who has operated
an orphanage in the Haitian capital since 2002. "The best way to service them is to get them out."

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The 53-year-old pastor runs the H.I.S. Home For Children shelter out of a two-story brick house. The main room
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is filled with dozens of folding cots; babies in diapers play on a tiled floor. Under a tarp were 52 plastic jugs
brought by UNICEF after the earthquake.

He says his goal is to extract as many children as possible from Haiti via adoption. Just days after the earthquake,
his wife, Chris, boarded a C-130 military transport plane with 78 children and shepherded them to their adopting
families in the U.S. and Canada.

Even some government officials concede that it is difficult to persuade Haitians that relinquishing their children
isn't the best course.

"We are a land of hurricanes, flooding and now earthquakes," said Edwin Casséus, head of the children and
maternity department at Haiti's social welfare agency, IBESR, outside his quake-ravaged office. "As long as
Haiti's economic situation won't improve, Haitian families will keep tendering their children."

Mike Fox, an American businessman who runs the Global Orphan Project in a district north of Port-au-Prince,
insists that adoption is an economic proposition that makes little sense for Haiti.

"As opposed to paying $25,000 to adopt one child, you could spend $15,000 and build a home for 30 kids," says
the Kansas City, Mo., transplant.

The project's compound here, one of 19 housing more than 2,000 kids in the country, has the Spartan look of a
roadside motel. It has absorbed almost 90 children since the earthquake, many of them from existing orphanages
flattened by the ruins. He's also taken in street kids and a 13-year-old girl who came here pregnant.

None of them, he says, are slated for adoption. The problem, however, is that structures like Mr. Fox's were
initially designed to provide children with temporary relief until kids could reintegrate with their natural families.
In Haiti, however, orphanages have become a permanent and growing part of the country's scenery.

After the earthquake, Arno Klarsfeld, the son of Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsferld, was dispatched to Port-
au-Prince by the French government to make recommendations on how France could help improve Haiti's
humanitarian situation and regulate adoptions.

Back in Paris after two weeks in Haiti, Mr. Klarsfeld said he was struggling to write his report. "Something here
isn't morally correct," he said.

"It's a vicious circle," he said. "The more orphanages open, the more parents are tempted to give their kids away."

—David Luhnow
contributed to this article.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A1

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