Child Traffickers or “Child Rescuers”?

I’m interested in these two articles on Stuff. Both articles are about the US Baptist group taking Haiti children to the Dominican Republic. The firstĀ  article was published on February 1, 2010 at 13.07 and refers to a “child trafficker” speaking out. The second article was published on February 2, 2010 at 16.00 and suddenly the child traffickers are now “child rescuers”.

Now isn’t “child rescuer” so much more sanitised. Gee, sounds like they are the good guys in the story rescuing those poor children. Much better than evil traffickers who remove children from their families without consent and whisk them off to other countries. Hang on a minute…isn’t that just exactly what the missionaries were doing? And what kind of credential do you need to be a missionary these days?

What seems to have been overlooked in the media is the 1993 Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. As the text in the link above says, the purpose of the Convention is to “protect children and their families against the risks of illegal, irregular, premature or ill-prepared adoptions abroad.” What prophetic words. While neither Haiti nor the Dominican Republic are Contracting States, the United States of America is. Therefore, as a “receiving state” the USA has an obligation to apply the internationally agreed conventions. A point made by the Hague Conference on Private International Law. Arguably, the receiving state has a greater responsibility to ensure that they are not encouraging the illegal transportation of children.

The purpose of the conventional is to ensure the best interests of children are met. There are a number of aspects including ensuring that:

1. The children are genuinely available for adoption. The parents are not under pressure to give up their children and the parents are fully informed about what the adoption will mean.

2. Children are not bought and sold.

3. Children have an identity. This is not just in terms of their right to maintain their cultural identity but also a legal identity as a citizen of a country.

4. The home the child goes into a safe one.

5. That there are approved accredited adoption agencies with proper standards and ethics.

Basically, that the baddies don’t steal kids and exploit them sexually or for labour and that well meaning do-gooders don’t cause children harm by depriving them of their natural families, heritage and identity.

Haiti’s children are vulnerable and their parents are vulnerable. Is it any better that the Baptists were “apply Christian principles to save Haiti’s children” when the result may that already traumatised children are further displaced? Are good intentions enough to mean that child trafficking is child “rescuing?”

We need to remember here that we are talking about adoption, not just fostering. A legal adoption severs the legal relationship between parents and child and creates a new legal relationship between the child and the adoptive parents. Is that what Haitian parents understood when they, in desperation, allegedly consented to their children being removed from Haiti? For that matter, how did the Baptists know they were gaining consent from the child’s real parents?

I also have to comment on the cultural imperialism of the Baptists. The situation reeks of “We’re white and Christian so your black children will be better off with us. Plus I googled Haiti and it mentioned voodoo. In the name of Jesus, we will care for your children. Your government is struggling under a national emergency, but don’t worry, we know what is best.”

Would the “child rescuers” be treated differently if they were not white and Christian? There is some commentary about this over at The Hand Mirror.

Children are entitled to food, shelter and love. But first and foremost, they are entitled to receive this from their own families.

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