The following article was published in the 2/28/08 edition of the San Fransisco Daily Journal. Ms. Valdivia, author of www.adoptivemomhaiti.blogspot.com, is a well-known source of adoption information for those in the Haitian Adoption internet circles. Please read this article. For my sweet friends who so patiently and graciously listen to my rants about UNICEF, this article better articulates my view. The article will also help further clarify my ever-rambling and certainly vauge answer to the question, "When will the boys come home?"
Love and Haiti
By Vera Valdivia
The country of Haiti is located just 600 miles off the coast of Florida. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. Additionally, Haiti has one of the worst records of human rights violations in the world.
It is time for a call to action, which is why on Friday, March 7, 2008, at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, a panel consisting of legal academics, Haitian government officials, a Haitian human rights lawyer and women and children’s rights activists are coming together to discuss these egregious violations.
In Haiti, political activities result in the violation of human rights through kidnapping and torture, poor people are detained in jails without legal representation for stealing a loaf of bread, girls and women are forced into prostitution, children are used as household slaves, thousands of children die from malnutrition and illness, and hundreds of babies die at birth or shortly thereafter.
The Haitian legal system is not available to protect the victims because only people with financial resources can afford justice. In Haiti, about 10 percent of the population holds 90 percent of the wealth. Consequently, the economically powerless, especially women and children, suffer unspeakable abuses and do not have access to the protection of law. Many of the tiniest victims of this abuse end up in one of the morgues located in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The morgue I saw resembles a toy store with what looks like hundreds of toy dolls on storage shelves in a large dark room. However, they are not dolls but dead babies and children who are stacked on top of one another on shelves that reach all the way to the ceiling. Nobody seems to cry for these dead children, nobody asks how or why they died. Nobody comes to claim their bodies.
Many of the dead babies were born to the girls and women who have been forced into prostitution for various reasons, and as a result many unwanted babies are born. Babies end up in garbage piles on the side of the road, inside of sewer drains or in the river drowned. Some of the babies are born out of liaisons between the prostitutes and U.N. peacekeeping troops.
American, Canadian, French and Dutch nonprofit humanitarian or church-sponsored organizations operate and fund many of the Haitian orphanages that provide shelter to some of the unwanted, abandoned and orphaned babies and older children. Several of these organizations seek adoptive homes for the children and, since the mid-1990s, thousands of Haitian children have found permanent homes with families in the United States, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Ireland, Argentina and Germany. Although international adoption is not the long-term solution for the plight of so many of Haiti’s children, it provides homes to unwanted children while the Haitian government and the international community should be working on making fundamental changes in the country’s economic and legal system.
UNICEF has expressed its concern to the Haitian government regarding the deplorable conditions under which the majority of Haitian children have to live. Although UNICEF does not have the financial resources to improve the situation of the abandoned and orphaned children, it told the Haitian government that “too many children” were adopted internationally.
In 2006, approximately 1,059 formerly abandoned and orphaned Haitian children joined their adoptive families in the above-mentioned countries. This number dropped dramatically in 2007, when only approximately 724 adopted Haitian children joined their new families. However, this decrease is not a result of a drop in numbers of abandoned or orphaned children because Haitian orphanages are still filled beyond capacity, and needy children are turned away daily because there is no more room.
Some powerful judicial and government officials appear to have taken notice of UNICEF’s concern regarding the large numbers of children leaving the country through adoption. One of the judicial officials, a powerful judge with the title of chief prosecutor of the Port-au-Prince parquet (the main court), is in charge of approving international adoptions for orphanages located within the capital’s judicial district. Another government official works within the Ministry of Interior who has been placed in charge of approving passport applications for adopted children who are about to leave the country to live with their new families.
In 2007, the chief prosecutor began refusing to sign adoption decrees even though the petitions have been approved by the home countries of the adopting families after thorough screening and by IBESR, the Haitian Social Services Ministry. More than 300 adoption files have been stuck in his office during 2007. These adoption files represent 300 children who remain in orphanages waiting, while their prospective adoptive parents hope that the chief prosecutor will have a miraculous change of heart and sign the decrees.
One of the problems with the Haitian legal system, which is based on French Napoleonic codes, is that as new laws are passed by the legislature, old laws are not repealed and stay on the books. One of these old, unrepealed laws only permits childless singles or couples to adopt. The law had not been applied in years, but the chief prosecutor cites this particular law as the reason he has not signed off on the adoption decrees. In response to the existence of the old law, Haitian President René Préval has issued letters of exemption for these families granting a presidential pardon and permitting the adoption. The chief prosecutor, however, has continued with his refusal to sign the adoption files. Conversely, many of the waiting adoption files are of childless singles or couples, and the chief prosecutor has refused to sign those adoption decrees as well, without citing a reason. Some of the adoption files have been waiting in the main court for a year.
Since January 2007, the Ministry of Interior has been in charge of reviewing all documents related to completed adoptions that have been processed and legalized by the different Parquet (court) locations in Haiti and the few adoptions that the chief prosecutor has signed. The passport office is not permitted to issue passports for adopted children without an approval letter from the Ministry of Interior. Approximately 500 completed adoption files are currently awaiting such approval. Some files have been waiting for passport approval for the past 12 months. In the meantime, adopted children who are no longer abandoned or orphaned cannot join their new families because they cannot leave the country without a Haitian passport.
Instead of focusing on the real problems and working to make effective changes that will improve the lives of children, these officials have reduced the number of adopted children who left the country during 2007 by about 32 percent. Hundreds of children whose files are stuck in the adoption process or who are waiting for passports remain in orphanages. Other children, without a prospect for a better future, continue to be homeless, malnourished and ill.
Haiti is desperately in need of possible solutions to its human rights crisis and changes to its legal system. These fundamental changes have to be made in order to improve Haiti’s human rights record and to improve the lives of all Haitians, but especially those of women and children.