March 17 2010

Haiti: 33 "orphans" to be reunited with their parents

17/03/2010 - The 33 children who were to be taken to the Dominican Republic by ten US citizens and were temporarily cared for at the SOS Children's Village in Santo in Port-au-Prince will be reunited with their biological families on 17 March.

The children arrived on 30 January, when SOS Children's Villages was assigned the task of taking care of them temporarily by the Haitian child welfare authority IBERS (The Institut du Bien Etre Sociale et De Recherches), following the arrest of a group of ten US nationals who had tried to take them out of the country under dubious circumstances and without proper documentation.

Following a lengthy process of family verification handled by IBERS, the children, aged four months to twelve years, can now return home.

"It has turned out that all of the 33 children have parents. SOS Children's Villages is convinced that in most cases, the best place for a child to be cared for and protected is within the family. In any case, poverty and lacking resources must not be allowed to be the cause for separation. We are therefore very supportive of the decision of the Haitian authorities to reunite these children with their biological families," says Celigny Darius, national director of SOS Children's Villages in Haiti.

During their stay, all 33 children participated in the daily life of the SOS Children's Village and have each been integrated into a household. Siblings and cousins lived under the same roof and all received medical care and professional help from psychologists and SOS social workers.

"I have made some good friends here and enjoyed playing football, but I miss my mother and now it will be nice to go home," says 9-year old Michael.

"This case has highlighted the risks of separation in emergency situations, when destitute families see no other way than to give up their children. Even before the earthquake many families in Haiti were at risk of being separated due to poverty. Unfortunately, as access to medical care, food, water, shelter, and other services continues to be more limited than before, the situation still puts children at risk. It is essential that relief efforts focus on preventing separation by ensuring that families have access to basic necessities," Celigny Darius says.

Parents have been able to visit the children and after due research and home visits, SOS Children's Villages will be able to add additional support to that of IBERS and UNICEF, should the families be considered as requiring further family strengthening support.

More than 400 unaccompanied and orphaned children have found their way to the safe haven of SOS Children's Villages in Port-au-Prince since the earthquake. All are in the process of being registered in a national database, used to facilitate the tracing of relatives. As of mid-March, SOS Children's Villages has helped 65 children to be reunited with their family.

In addition, the emergency relief programme of SOS Children's Villages in Haiti ensures a daily, home-cooked meal for 12,500 children in earthquake-affected areas of the capital through community cooking committees and is active in NGO networks to further the assistance to children in need.