This is the story I’ve been dreading for more than a week. But after nearly two weeks, I can put it off no more.
A little personal observation has shown that most people who are thinking about Haiti’s catastrophe are most acutely aware of all these beautiful children, some broken and hurting, some smiling amidst the pain around them.
Port-au-Prince alone had, reportedly, more than 40 orphanages before the quake. We can conservatively estimate that each held about 100 children. That’s 4000 children, from newborn up, in that one city alone.
Given the number of people assumed dead (the smallest estimate is around 70,000), and assuming about 2-3% of children were immediately left orphaned in the initial earthquake, that’s another 1500-2000 children. ((Many newspapers and other media outlets are quoting figures for new orphans in the tens of thousands. Considering the type of natural disaster, I suppose that is not impossible; however, assuming a 5-figure death toll, it’s rather unlikely. Should the final tally be in the hundreds of thousands, however, then the situation is made all the more poignant. The point is, we don’t know; therefore, I am reluctant to assume bigger numbers.))
It wouldn’t be surprising to find another few hundred, perhaps even a thousand more, left parent-less in the “second wave” of calamity, as various medical conditions cause people to catch and succumb to secondary infections, either for lack of medical care, adequate housing, or simple bad health.
The thing is, so many people have been affected across the entire nation that the effects of this tragedy will be felt by the younger generation for the rest of their lives.
In the midst of all this are fears of children being literally snatched out of the country illegally, not by well-meaning but overeager parents-to-be, but by the scum of the earth known as “child traffickers”.
Various news organizations around the world are quietly reporting the suspected abduction of approximately 15 children, right out of (presumably makeshift) hospitals since January 12th‘s earthquake.
The problem is, although a lot of children previously orphaned or abandoned seem to have survived just fine, the buildings that were housing them often did not fare so well. The result is a swollen number of children who are literally living outside, where they are even more at risk than usual.
“We have documented let’s say around 15 cases of children disappearing from hospitals and not with their own family at the time,” said UNICEF adviser Jean Luc Legrand.
“UNICEF has been working in Haiti for many years and we knew the problem with the trade of children in Haiti which existed already beforehand, and unfortunately many of these trade networks have links with the international adoption ‘market’,” Legrand explained. ((Source: The Windsor Star)).
Add to that the general chaos in the country, the destruction of too many governmental buildings in which various identification papers were held, a population that desperately needs to make money so they can purchase the goods they need and begin rebuilding what they have lost, and what you have is the ideal situation for the less savory to snatch children for their own nefarious purposes. With no one to look out for them, they are exposed to all the dangers already inherent in a country where kidnapping was already considered by some a viable, even profitable ((Consider this BBC report: Targeting Haiti’s Kidnap Trade)) way to make money. This is especially true for older children, who find themselves living on their own on the streets, scrabbling for survival. ((It is a reasonable guess that the child dramatically rescued by Anderson Cooper last week in the midst of a looting scene may have been one such child.)) Children like Jean Peterson Estimé, a 13 year old boy who’s parents and five sisters were killed in the earthquake.
“I’m trying to get a little job so I can take care of myself,” he says, attempting to look brave even as he shuffles his dirty feet in too-big sandals. ((Source: The Associated Press via Yahoo! News.))
The United Nations, aware of the growing problem, is attempting to take steps to protect the children, whether orphaned or not, against pedophiles, kidnappers, and other traffickers. Meantime, it is also urging member nations to be careful in approving adoptions. People who’s adoptions were already approved are finding themselves fast-tracked; but the legions of new volunteer parents may find themselves caught in more than the usual red tape, as government agencies, orphanages, and NGOs struggle to identify children and their living relatives.
Meantime, the danger is real.
So every day, I think of the children and send a little prayer out to the Universe. They are already survivors; may they remain protected from evil.
On a side note, Anaika St. Louis, an 11 year old girl whom CNN had reported as having been pulled, alive, 48 hours after the earthquake, has died. Her funeral was held Friday, January 17. May she and all the other little ones rest in peace.
Here is CNN’s coverage of her dramatic rescue and subsequent passing.