OTTAWA—Canadian adoptive parents on Saturday welcomed the third group of Haitian children to arrive in Canada from their earthquake-ravaged country as the federal government announced another two airlifts of adoptees within the next week.
“We are working to put as many children as possible on the flights, given the logistical difficulties in Haiti,” Citizenship and Immigration Canada said in a statement update on the government’s expedited adoption of Haitian children, dubbed “Operation Stork.”
This weekend’s flight brought 62 children aged 3 months to 17 years. Almost half were under two years old. They are among the approximately 217 children who have received permission from the Haitian government to come to Canada.
All the children were already in the adoption process when the massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12 devastated the country, which was already struggling from the effects of hurricanes along with a history of political violence and upheaval.
The new group joined the 85 adoptees already united with their new families from across Canada, including 24 from the first airlift on Jan. 24, 52 from the second flight on Jan. 27, and nine others who came via Canadian Forces or American evacuation flights.
The next flights are scheduled for February 3 and 6, but Operation Stork is then expected to taper off.
After facilitating all adoptions in process since before the earthquake, the Haitian government has said it will only approve orphaned children to leave the country whose cases it has investigated and deemed as legitimate adoptions.
Haitian authorities are concerned about child trafficking, as are aid organizations with long experience working in the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation.
During the foreign ministers’ conference on Haiti held in Montreal on Jan. 25, Care, Oxfam, UNICEF, and Plan Canada were among 18 Canadian NGOs that urged prioritized assistance to unaccompanied children and other vulnerable groups and called for a moratorium on new international adoptions.
Carleen McGuinty, child protection policy advisor at World Vision Canada, said that even before the disaster, “children were living in poverty, being trafficked, being used as domestic slaves in other families’ home. They were already in a very desperate situation.”
The quake exacerbated their vulnerability. “You have children who have been separated from their family, children who have been injured, at risk of being trafficked again, at risk of being adopted without knowing whether their parents were still alive or not.”
UNICEF’s 2005 statistic showed that 55 percent of Haiti’s population lived below the international poverty line of US$1.25 per day.
The organization estimated that in 2007 there were 380,000 orphans aged 0 to 17 in Haiti where over 4.2 million of the population of 9.6 million were under 18. Children living in orphanages included those left there by their parents as a result of extreme poverty.
Moreover, UNICEF estimates that as many as 2,000 children per year are trafficked to neighbouring Dominican Republic, to the east on the same island as Haiti, often with their parents’ consent.
Next to providing for their basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and medical assistance, World Vision’s priority is to help separated and orphaned children trace and reunite with their immediate or extended family members, said Ms. McGuinty.
The relief organization just opened three camps in Port-au-Prince, what it calls “child-friendly spaces,” which consist of large tents where children can receive care and support for their physical and emotional needs, including dealing with grief and loss.
“They’ve seen things that no child should see, so they need a place where they can get back to normal, where they can play soccer, draw, talk to other children, and where they’re safe.”
The International Reference Centre for the Rights of Children Deprived of Their Family recommends aid efforts to focus on providing children with basic protection as close as possible to their daily living conditions, as evacuation is an added disruption to already-traumatized children.