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Baptist "Human Trafficking" Update: Some Haitian Children Weren't Orphans

(AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
(AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
(AP Photo/Charlie Litchfield)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CBS/AP) As a group of American Baptist charity workers waits to hear if they will be tried on child trafficking charges for attempting to take 33 children out of earthquake-ravaged Haiti, the Associated Press has learned that not all of the children they were transporting were orphans.

Photo: Infant who was amongst group that Baptists wanted to move to Haiti is seen at SOS Children's Villages.

"One (8-year-old) girl was crying, and saying, 'I am not an orphan. I still have my parents.' And she thought she was going on a summer camp or a boarding school or something like that," George Willeit, a spokesman for SOS Children's Villages, said. SOS, an Austrian-based charity working in Haiti, now has custody of the children.

Photo: Detained Americans at police headquarters in the Port-au-Prince airport, Jan. 30, 2010.

Willeit said the children arrived "very hungry, very thirsty." A 2- to 3-month-old baby was dehydrated and had to be hospitalized, he said. Workers were searching for their families or close relatives.

Child welfare groups expressed outrage over Friday's attempt to move the kids to a hotel in the Dominic Republic, saying some of the children had parents who survived the Jan. 12 earthquake. Prime Minister Max Bellerive denounced the group's "illegal trafficking of children" in a country long afflicted by the scourge and by foreign meddling.

Photo: Baptist group tried to move this boy into Dominic Republic. The pink label on his shirt had his name written on it.

But while the church workers may be viewed as "traffickers" in Haiti, they say they came armed only with good intentions. They were "just trying to do the right thing," said Laura Silsby, a spokeswoman for the Idaho church group. She conceded that amidst the chaos, she had not obtained the proper Haitian documents for the children.

Photo: Five members of the Central Valley Baptist congregation were detained.

The Baptists' "Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission" was described as an effort to save abandoned, traumatized children. Their plan was to scoop up 100 kids and take them by bus to a 45-room hotel at Cabarete, a beach resort in the Dominican Republic. The 33 kids ranged in age from 2 months to 12 years.

They were stopped at the border for not having proper paperwork and taken back to Port-au-Prince, where the children were taken to a temporary children's home.

The group's actions are further complicated by a view amongst some Haitian parents that giving a child up for adoption to foreigners may be their best chance for a future.

"My parents died in the earthquake. My husband has gone. Giving up one of my kids would at least give them a chance," Saintanne Petit-Frere, 40, a mother of six living outside in a tent camp near the airport said Sunday. "My only fear is that they would forget me, but that wouldn't affect my decision."

"Some parents I know have already given their children to foreigners," said Adonis Helman, 44. "I've been thinking how I will choose which one I may give."

For now, the Haitian government has halted all adoptions unless they were in motion before the earthquake. Prime Minister Bellerive's personal authorization is now required for the departure of any child.

Haiti has long been a hub for sex trafficking as well as the trafficking of children for domestic slavery within the country.

A commission will meet Monday to decide if the church members would go before a judge. They remain in custody, but not in jail.

The arrested Americans include members of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, and the East Side Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho. They are part of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is America's largest Protestant denomination and has extensive humanitarian programs worldwide.

The Idaho churches had elaborate plans before the earthquake to shelter up to 200 Haitian and Dominican boys and girls in the Magante beach resort, complete with a school and chapel as well as villas and a seaside cafe catering to adoptive U.S. parents.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Should the Baptist group be viewed as saviors or kidnappers?