Children Affected by the earthquake in Haiti
January 22, 2010
The Department of State is receiving inquiries from American citizens deeply touched by the plight of children in Haiti in the aftermath of the January 12 earthquake.
As Secretary of State Clinton said on January 20, "Children are especially vulnerable in any disaster, especially those without parents or other guardians to look after them. This devastating earthquake has left many in need of assistance, and their welfare is of paramount concern as we move forward with our rescue and relief efforts."
Together with the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department is processing and evacuating as quickly as possible those orphans who were identified for adoption by American citizens before the earthquake.
We understand that other Americans, moved by images of children in need, want to open their homes and adopt other Haitian children who had not been identified for adoption before the earthquake. The State Department advises against this course of action at this time. Intercountry adoption involves strict safeguards and legal requirements that must be met to protect children from illegal adoptions, abduction, sale and child-trafficking as well as to ensure that any adoption is in the best interests of the child.
Before a child can be legally taken to the United States for adoption, the Governments of both the United States and the child’s country of origin must first determine that the child is indeed an orphan. It can be extremely difficult during the aftermath of a natural disaster to ascertain whether children who appear to be orphans truly are eligible for adoption. Children may be temporarily separated from their parents or other family members, and their parents or family members may be looking for them. Moreover, it is not uncommon in an emergency or unsettled situation for parents to send their children out of the area, or for families to become separated during an evacuation. Efforts to reunite such children with relatives or extended family should be given priority.
In addition, some children who had been residing in orphanages before the earthquake were placed there temporarily by parents who could not care for them. In most of these cases the parents did not intend to permanently give up their parental rights. Even when it can be demonstrated that children have indeed lost their parents or have been abandoned, reunification with other relatives in the extended family should be the first option.
During times of crisis, it can also be exceptionally difficult to fulfill the legal requirements for adoption of both the United States and the child's country of origin. This is especially true when civil authority breaks down or temporarily ceases to function. It can also be difficult to gather documents necessary to fulfill the legal requirements of U.S. immigration law.
The United States is cooperating directly with UNICEF and other relief organizations in Haiti to deliver needed supplies to Haiti’s orphanages and to provide assistance to other unaccompanied children. UNICEF is starting the process of registering unaccompanied children and will seek to unite children with relatives.
There are many ways in which U.S. citizens can help the children of Haiti now. For example, individuals who wish to assist can make a financial contribution to a reputable relief or humanitarian organization working in that country.
United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)