For-Profit Orphanages Keep Haitian Families Apart

By: Jennifer Morgan

Port-au-Prince, Haiti -- "Stop reunifying children with their families!"

These were the words that greeted me when I arrived at work one morning a few months ago, from the director of a Port-au-Prince orphanage, furious at me for doing my job: tracing the relatives of children separated from their families.

"You are destroying my business," he screamed.

We suspected that the orphanage director, who runs one of an estimated 600-plus orphanages in Haiti, was making a profit by using children to garner donations and fees from dubious adoptions.

My job -- as coordinator of the International Rescue Committee's (IRC) family tracing and reunification program in Haiti -- is to help remove children from abusive or exploitative situations, like this man's orphanage, and place them in a safe family environment.

While there are an estimated 124,000 children who lost one parent and 7,000 who lost both parents during the earthquake that struck Haiti last January, (according to USAID/DCHA), and others who were orphaned before last year's disaster, the reality is that the majority of children in these orphanages are not orphans at all. Many have living parents and relatives who, while they love their children, feel that they do not have the economic means to house, clothe, feed and send them to school. Orphanages that promise a better life for children may appear attractive to poor families, but there is often no way of knowing whether the children are treated well and given access to health care and education, or whether they are being exploited, abused or trafficked. Some Haitian orphanages are run by well-intentioned people who have the means and ability to properly care for groups of vulnerable children, but many of these facilities are unregulated and routinely disregard basic human rights.

I spent several hours at one such facility in late January after the IRC received reports of suspicious deaths, disappearances and abuse of children. I was accompanied by my Haitian colleagues, social workers trained by the IRC, and representatives from the government Institute for Social Well Being and Research (IBESR). The faith-based group that ran the orphanage was openly hostile to our presence and reluctant to give us access. Once we managed to get inside, it was a dismal scene. Small children sat inertly in rows, some on benches and others on the floor, and I was struck by the lack of noise in a space where there were more than 70 children. The children barely talked or moved, returning our greetings with vacant stares. A few children showed a spark of interest in playing with my colleagues, but most of the younger children were unresponsive, while the older children were extremely wary and distrustful of speaking to strangers. Several of the children were brought to a nearby IRC medical clinic and treated for high fever, flu and a variety of skin infections. Several of the children were also found to be malnourished and were referred for treatment.

A colleague from another international child protection organization recently told me about a troubling visit he made to a residential center for children in the south of Haiti. The children, my colleague said, were all painfully thin. He asked the head of the center if they had the means to feed the children adequately, and the director replied: "We have lots of money. But we if keep the children thin, when we send pictures to church groups in the United States, they send more money. If we send pictures of children who look healthy, they don't send as much money."

Another colleague, an international aid worker who had worked in a Port-au-Prince orphanage, told me of an orphanage where she had witnessed babies being placed on a chair and then left unsupervised, where they were in danger of rolling off onto the floor. When the aid worker instinctively rushed to catch one child, she was scolded by the orphanage staff to let the child fall: "This is how they learn to keep still and quiet."

I've spent over six years working in child protection across 10 countries, including in regions that have been ravaged by brutal conflict, but I am still deeply shocked when I hear about this kind of behavior. At a basic human level, how can anyone treat a child like this?

This handful of personal anecdotes provides a glimpse into a much larger, systemic problem of orphanages in Haiti. Granted not all of them are terrible places and not all are run by exploitative or heartless opportunists. Indeed, some of them fill a badly-needed gap in temporary child care. But the reality is that far too many of these harmful institutions exist.

The Haitian government body responsible for child welfare, IBESR, suffered tremendous losses in the earthquake and is struggling to monitor and regulate the numerous institutions throughout the country. The IRC is part of an inter-agency effort to help IBESR carry out this important work. Those of us involved in this effort fear that the many for-profit orphanages are using the challenging post-earthquake situation to their advantage by operating under the radar to lure children from poor families and then offer them up in the interests of international donations, dubious international adoptions or trafficking. As Frantz Thermilus, chief of Haiti's judicial police, told the New York Times, "so-called orphanages that have opened in the last couple of years" are actually "fronts for criminal organizations that take advantage of people who are homeless and hungry. And with the earthquake they see an opportunity to strike in a big way."

A recent report by the international aid organization Save the Children detailed these "recruitment" campaigns by unregulated institutions, outlining how children from poor families are then sold for profit to child traffickers and shady adoption agencies. The report criticizes the financial and material support of such agencies, often by unwitting or unknowing donors in foreign countries, noting that such support can actually lead to an increase in the separation of children from their families and result in psychological and emotional damage to children. "For every three months a child spends in an orphanage," the report says, "they lose one month of development. If young children grow up in large group care, a lack of long-term individual care can result in permanent brain damage."

Rather than strengthening the activities of the for-profit orphanages, the IRC believes in helping parents and extended family members to care for their own children. In coordination with the government, the IRC is working with children, their families and communities to enable sustainable family reunification. Instead of pouring money into institutions that keep families apart while robbing children of the right to be raised in a nurturing family environment, we would prefer to see those funds used to bolster a parent or caregiver's ability to provide for their child. I would urge readers to ask themselves: where would you rather your money go?

To find out more about the International Rescue Committee's work in Haiti, please go to


Keeping-up Appearances

Loved this part:

The children, my colleague said, were all painfully thin. He asked the head of the center if they had the means to feed the children adequately, and the director replied: "We have lots of money. But we if keep the children thin, when we send pictures to church groups in the United States, they send more money. If we send pictures of children who look healthy, they don't send as much money."

If that doesn't put things into perspective, I don't know what will.

For Profit orphanages....

I ditto that. Whose interests do they seem to be looking out for?

It is Guatemala all over again! The hogares (term used for small orphanages) in Guatemala were set up for the SOLE purpose of ICA = $$$.

ICA closed in Guatemala, so did the hogares. So much for caring for children who needed food and care.

Here's the BEST part:

What are the chances a NON-Profit adoption agency (listed here and here and here ) works with/facilitates adoption services for a FOR-Profit maternity/doctor service, hospital and/ or orphanage known to let one or more an illegal adoptions pass-through ?



Missionary facilitators...

What about the missionaries who are living in Guatemala (like Quetzaltenango) who have ONE lawyer they use (who gets 3/4 of the $) among themselves?  These missionaries get their cut by pleading with the PAP's to bring down things like: computers, computer battery back-ups, extra money for THEIR mission?  They pay the bribes and get their perks while the maids takes care of the babies (1-4 at a time).  This is a small operation, but it fits right in with what you are talking about; and yes, there are plenty of illegal adoptions going through the missionaries, too.  The missionaries (when I was there ) didn't have to be listed as a NON-Profit adoption agency.  They just did adoptions, for YEARS...  What about these operations?  They are the ones that fly under the radar.

Smaller Operations

Good point about the smaller operations staying under the radar in Guatemala. It is true that there are many fundamental religious organizations at work in Guatemala, for a variety of reasons, and many of them took part in the adoption frenzy.

I think the governmental agencies that attempted to clean up the corruption glossed over these smaller religious groups, and no doubt there were probably hundreds of them. I would imagine it was because (in part) the larger hogares run by notorious attorneys and facilitators (Primavera and Susana Luarca, for example) who handled thousands of cases were targeted first due to those numbers, and the fact that they were connected to what investigators in Guatemala dubbed "the adoption mafia".


Great responses and observations, just remember, the original article relates to Haiti, not Guatemala, ( which thankfully, so far, seems to remain CLOSED to Americans).

Haiti is OPEN.

Thanks for the reminder....

Thanks for the reminder...but that is exactly why folks are posting about Guatemala, let it be a reminder. When it was happening in Guatemala most of it fell on deaf ears. Haiti is a repeat of what happened in Guatemala. Many of the folks who were involved with adoptions in Guatemala, when it closed, just packed up and put up a new sign in Haiti and Ethiopia...and in other parts of the world...even as we speak in the new frontier of...Serbia.
History has a tendency of repeating itself.

History has a tendency of repeating itself

over and over and over again, as exampled in our History of Child Placement pages show.

I'm grateful for those willing to confirm these atrocities are NOT limited to one era, one region, one church, one government.

The words and message must be spread, (so thanks for whatever input you have to offer).

Does this read familiar?

Why are many people adopting a child from XXXXXX?

Calamities and disasters – The incidence of typhoons, earthquakes and calamities that left XXXXXX in a devastated state is one of the factors for high rates of international adoption. There are in fact many children left homeless and without a family in the aftermath of such disasters. Children affected by these pitiful situations are in serious need for help from all sources, even international.

Economic situation – The difficult economic situation of XXXXXXX is also a contributing factor why people from other countries desire to join efforts in adopting a child from XXXXXXX. Many children born to poor families are not even provided with the most basic needs for human existence.

Health conditions – The issue on AIDS and other medical conditions affecting XXXXXX nationals is also a factor in the rise of the rates of people adopting a child from XXXXXX. Many people want to spare these children from such health maladies by providing a home in another land across nations.

However, like all other international adoption schemes, adopting a child from XXXXXX also has its issues:

Costly – Adopting a child from XXXXXX cannot be completed without shedding some considerable amount of money. It usually takes an agency to take care of all the legal issues and other concerns for adopting a child from XXXXXX. From visa fees to international calls and travelling to the other country to fetch your adopted child, fees can rock into a high. Adopting a child from XXXXXX may be relatively expensive and you must be financially prepared even before starting the adoption process.

More complicated than domestic adoption – Adopting a child from XXXXXX and other countries will follow a more complicated process than domestic or inside the country adoption. Dealing with paperwork and other issues regarding a different government and nation makes the entire process even more complicated.

Dealing with a different culture – Adopting a child from XXXXXX can be very challenging especially the need to interact and live with a different person not related by blood and has been raised in a different culture. This presents a situation wherein a foster parent and child may have conflicting ideas and culture. Assess your self first if you are truly ready to face the intercultural adjustment that will come from international adoption.

[From:  a blog, "Cleavland Bridge Project", which hyperlinks itself to many services, including a service that facilitates foreign adoptions in a variety of popular sending countries.  Feel free to browse CBP, knowing the mission has nothing to do with helping parents or children.]

Note all the missing critical adoption information and warnings.


Check all of the above

I find the line above from the text interesting:
"However, like all other international adoption schemes, adopting a child from XXXXXX also has its issues"...

Scheme indeed.

Pound Pup Legacy