January 20, 2010, Seattle —International relief and development agency World Vision acknowledges the generous impulse to help Haitian children displaced by last week’s massive earthquake by rushing adoptions of children who seem to have been orphaned in the disaster. However, the agency warns that this may lead to adoptions that inadvertently separate families or risk a lapse in child protection, with unintended consequences.
The agency notes that its concern is not for adoptions that are already in process. Its call applies only to new adoptions of children presumed to be orphaned by last week’s deadly earthquake.
“Hearing about the specific needs of children often sparks a desire to adopt those who seem to have lost their families,” said Nicole Behnam, child protection specialist at World Vision. “The intentions are often noble and generous. However, early in a crisis, it is better for children to be protected while remaining in their home countries until the locations of their family members can be confirmed and adoption possibilities explored within their own communities.”
“Setting up adoptions in the first few months of a crisis is not in the interest of any child,” said Behnam. “We need to err on the side of caution and make sure that no other options are available in their home countries. There are international standards for investigation of a child’s best interest. Those standards must be met before an international adoption should be considered.”
World Vision and other aid agencies are calling the Haitian government to introduce a temporary moratorium on new adoptions of children within and outside Haiti during this emergency phase. The organization says that it is vital that organizations and authorities responding to the crisis prioritize child protection within Haiti and reunifying children with their families to ensure their actions do not inadvertently encourage family separation.
“In the outset of crises like natural disasters, children are always the most vulnerable,” said Behnam. “Their safety and security is of paramount concern — particularly those who are separated from their families. The extreme poverty in Haiti puts many children there at risk of exploitation and abuse, and the separation from families or primary caregivers only increases this vulnerability.”
World Vision has observed that unaccompanied children are migrating from quake-affected areas to seek safety, and hundreds have been moving into the rural areas, and even across the border into the Dominican Republic. While World Vision has already begun to identify lost children and establish temporary safe refuge for them there, the organization has expressed concern that this migration of separated children is likely to increase over coming days and weeks as insecurity worsens.
World Vision is calling for the temporary moratorium to be in place until children can be properly identified, the family tracing process is completed, and legal protection measures are taken. This will lessen the risk of children being exploited, trafficked, and permanently separated from their families.
Donations to World Vision’s Haiti Quake Response can be made by calling 888-56-CHILD, at www.worldvision.org, or by texting the word “GIVE” to 20222.
World Vision is a Christian relief and development organization dedicated to helping children and their communities worldwide reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty. We serve the world’s poor —regardless of a person’s religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. For more information, please visit www.worldvision.org/press.