5 Feb 2010

US missionaries in Haiti charged with child kidnap

11:29 pm on 5 February 2010

Haiti has charged 10 American missionaries with child abduction and criminal conspiracy for allegedly trying to take children illegally out of the country following last month's earthquake.

The missionaries, most of whom belonged to an Idaho-based Baptist Church, were arrested last week on Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic when they tried to cross with a busload of 33 children.

They said they were taking the children to a Dominican Republic orphanage. However, it emerged some of the youngsters had parents who were alive.

Haitian police said some parents admitted to handing over their children to the missionaries in the belief they would get an education and a better life.

Haitian authorities said the group lacked the authorisation and travel documents needed to take the children out of Haiti.

The Americans deny they were engaged in child-trafficking and said they were just trying to help some of the thousands of orphans left destitute and abandoned by the 7.0-magnitude quake on 12 January.

Their cases will now be sent to an investigating judge who will decide how to proceed. The five men and five women face lengthy jail terms if convicted.

Haiti's government has tightened adoption procedures since the quake, saying it feared unscrupulous traffickers could try to take advantage of the disaster by taking away vulnerable children.

Officials said they already had reports of trafficking of minors, and even of trafficking in human organs.