Baptist Group Accused of Child Trafficking

The White House announced late Sunday that the U.S. military will resume its medical evacuation flights from Haiti tonight. Meanwhile in Haiti, the local government is holding 10 Baptists from the United States who tried to take dozens of children across the border to the Dominican Republic, as CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports.

Thirty-three Haitian children, from two months to 12 years in age, are safe tonight in a Port-au-Prince orphanage, recovering from what authorities here call a child trafficking scheme.

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"They were desperate; they were thirsty," said George Willeit of the group SOS Children's Villages. "There were also babies who were dehydrated."

Across town, 10 American Baptists sit in jail accused of trying to spirit the children out of the country. The group was arrested at the Dominican border Friday night. They had no documents for the children when asked at the border.

But Laura Silsby a leader of the church group, said they had been told by several people, including Dominican authorities, that they could simply take the children across.

The Americans, most from two churches in Idaho, say they were trying to save children orphaned by the earthquake. Some of the children tell a different story.

"An elder girl, she might be eight or nine years old, told us crying, 'I am not an orphan. I do have parents. I thought I was going to boarding school or to summer camp,'" Willeit recalled.

Innocently or not, the Americans stepped into a hornets' nest of controversy. After the quake, the Haitian government stopped all adoptions, fearing lost, abandoned or orphaned children would be even more vulnerable to traffickers than before.

"It is very important that every measure is taken to trace their families and reunite these children with their families, either with their immediate families of their extended families," said UNICEF spokesman Kent Page.

The pastor of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, calls it all a terrible misunderstanding.

"I know there has been illegal activity that's been going on down there," said the pastor, Clint Henry. "It's unfortunate that we would be associated with that."

  • Ken Millstone

    Ken Millstone is an assignment editor at CBSNews.com