Member agencies of the Disasters Emergency Committee are calling for an immediate moratorium on any new adoptions of children from Haiti following last week’s devastating earthquake.
They said any hasty new adoptions would be harmful to already vulnerable children, risk permanently breaking up separated families and could distract from aid efforts in Haiti.
The call came from child protection and family tracing experts at Save the Children and World Vision, and the restoring family links unit of the British Red Cross.
Jasmine Whitbread, Save the Children’s Chief Executive, said:
“Thousands of families have been separated in the chaos of the earthquake, but the vast majority of the children currently on their own still have family members alive who will be desperate to be reunited with them and will be able to care for them with the right support. Taking children out of the country would permanently separate thousands of children from their families - a separation that would compound the acute trauma they are already suffering and inflict long-term damage on their chances of recovery.
“People wanting to help protect vulnerable children in Haiti will make the most difference by giving to agencies working to reunite children with their families and support relatives to care for them long-term.”
Justin Byworth, World Vision’s Chief Executive, said:
“The extreme poverty in Haiti already makes children extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and new unregulated adoptions could open the door to child traffickers. Children should not be leaving Haiti at this stage except with surviving family members. We are concerned not only about premature overseas adoption but also about children increasingly being sent unaccompanied to the Dominican Republic.”
Pete Garratt, British Red Cross Disaster Response Manager, said:
“The International Committee of the Red Cross continues to work closely with the Haitian Red Cross to help Haitians re-establish contact with their loved ones. The ICRC has opened an office at the headquarters of the Haitian Red Cross in Crois de Prez to help people to locate and get back in touch with relatives.”
As of 18 January, more than 22,000 people had registered on the ICRC's special website, www.icrc.org/familylinks, which was activated on 14 January to help people searching for their loved ones.
Save the Children has teams on the ground identifying lone children and is launching an emergency family tracing and reunification programme to reunite families and help put in place long-term support for their care.
According to the agencies, adoptions already in process should go ahead only if they have appropriate legal documentation and meet Haitian and international law.
The members also strongly discourage western governments from moving large numbers of children out of Haiti unless essential for medical reasons. If children are taken for treatment, the evacuating authorities must make sure that children have a caregiver or parents with them, and proper records are kept of their whereabouts so they can be reunited with relatives when they are physically better.
World Vision and Save the Children also called for the Government of Haiti to develop a policy on separated and accompanied children, providing clear guidelines on how to respond to this issue in the medium to longer term. This policy should draw on the recently welcomed UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children and the UNHCR Executive Committee Conclusion on Children at Risk.