Haiti Releases Eight Missionaries, Reconsiders Orphanages

Yesterday a judge authorized the release of eight of the ten American missionaries held in Haiti, but accusations are piling up against one of their advisers. Meanwhile, some activists want to keep all Haitian children out of orphanages.

Simon Romero and Ian Urbina of the New York Times report that the eight missionaries, freed after Haitian parents testified they'd handed over their children willingly, made it back to Miami this morning. However, Laura Silsby and her live-in nanny Charisa Coulter remain in custody. The others in the group had begun accusing Silsby of lying to them, at one point passing an NBC producer a note that read, "Laura wants to control. We believe lying. We're afraid." Also apparently untrustworthy is a man named Jorge Puello, who emerged after the missionaries were arrested and offered to act as their lawyer. The Times reports that Puello not only lacks a law degree, but is actually wanted in at least four countries for crimes including sex trafficking. And an actual lawyer for the group, Aviol Fleurant, says Puello has absconded with $30,000 in legal fees.

Given all this, it's perhaps no wonder that some want to eliminate orphanages in Haiti entirely. Tim Padgett and Jessica Desvarieux of Time write that Haiti's orphanages have long been poorly monitored and linked to trafficking, and that Haitian children given up by their families often become restaveks, or slaves to rich families. UNICEF and other aid organizations are now pursuing a strategy of placing orphaned children with relatives whenever possible — pretty much the opposite of the jailed missionaries' approach. Marie de la Soudiere, coordinator of UNICEF's separated children program in Haiti, has begun a registry to keep track of children and help keep them out of orphanages. She says the registry "gives these children a legal identity they didn't have before. In the end, I also think it will strengthen Haitian family culture, because Haitians have been encouraged for too long to believe that they can't take care of their own children." Of course, that's pretty much exactly the message Silsby and her group were sending Haitian families. Perhaps their arrest will remind would-be do-gooders that children aren't props for demonstrating charity, nor are they goods that can be moved around without consequences. Silsby and all who followed her would do well to remember that the best way to help a children is often to help their families, not to break them up.

Judge Releases Eight Americans Jailed In Haiti [NYT]
Why Unicef Wants To Keep Kids Out Of Haiti's Orphanages [Time]
Trafficking Charges For Adviser To Jailed Americans In Haiti [NYT]
Americans Held In Haiti Are Divided Over Leader [NYT]

Earlier: Missionaries Formally Charged With Kidnapping Haitian Children
Worst Laid Plans: Baptist Missionaries And Helping Kids In Haiti
Charity Gone Wrong: Missionaries Under Fire For Taking Haitian Children