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The Lost Children of Haiti

Extra: Rogelin's Story 01:50

Almost half the victims of the earthquake in Haiti are under the age of 18, which means about half a million children are still living on the streets, in crowded orphanages or in makeshift camps. Untold thousands of kids are separated from their families, threatened by hunger, disease, sexual assault and even a modern day slave trade.

We've just come back from six weeks around Port-au-Prince with an American charity called the Global Orphan Project. The catastrophe may have largely dropped from the news but we found that the emergency is still unfolding as rescue workers race the clock to save the lost children of Haiti.

Full Segment: The Lost Children of Haiti
Web Extra: Rogelin's Story
Web Extra: Why So Many Orphans?
Web Extra: Child Trafficking
Jean-Robert Cadet Foundation

Ten weeks after, Haitians walk an apocalyptic landscape. Many can't be certain of food or shelter. And for families with missing loved ones it is impossible to know who is living and who is dead. Survivors have raised urban campsites of sticks and cloth and plastic. It's crowded; water and sanitation are poor.

When "60 Minutes" arrived in January, the Good Samaritan Orphanage outside Port-au-Prince was overwhelmed. Even before the earthquake, orphanages like this were common because desperate families often feel forced to abandon their children to the care of others. But, now, new arrivals were pouring in.

We found Moise Vaval and Joe Knittig of the Global Orphan Project as they rushed food and tents to desperate children.

"One of them when we showed up the first time had one cup of flour and the children were asking their pastor, the caretaker, whether they were going to die," Knittig told correspondent Scott Pelley.

At a children's home, when the quake hit, the kids just happened to be in a prayer service under a mango tree. Their building crumbled. Global Orphan discovered the children, loaded up the survivors and checked them in to an emergency camp that it's set up outside the capital.

Moise Vaval is Global Orphan's country director and a Haitian pastor. While he was helping hundreds of orphans, we learned that he was also looking for his own missing son. Eight year old Jean-Mark didn't come home from school after the quake.

"Jean-Mark is a lovely child, a charming guy anybody who meets him man or woman you fall in love with him," Vaval told Pelley.

"You did something that I think is quite remarkable - you came back to work," Pelley pointed out.

"We are looking for one but there are hundreds here to care for," Vaval explained.

Vaval didn't know whether his boy was dead, injured or lost. We followed his search over the next six weeks, a search common to many thousands of Haitians.

"How is it possible to know how many lost children there are in Haiti now?" Pelley asked Marie de la Soudiere, who is responsible for UNICEF's program to unite lost children with their families.

"The answer is we don't know. We feel it's upwards of 50,000," she estimated.

The UNICEF project is a monumental task because kids were off in school when the earthquake hit and 5,000 schools were destroyed.

It's detective work. She coaxes leads from the children, like addresses, neighborhoods, relatives that they remember. One girl who didn't want to talk finally did draw her family in a happier time and began to open up.

"Either the child is too young to remember enough or fairly traumatized and then it takes a lot more time. But in my experience, and I don't think it's going to be any different in this country, 95 percent of the families can be found," de la Soudiere predicted.

"Ninety five percent, you have that much hope?" Pelley asked.

"Oh yeah, even little ones you just can't give up, never give up," she replied.

So far, de la Soudiere's team has registered 600 kids and reunited 20 with their families. It's a small start.

"Going forward now, weeks after the earthquake, what worries you?" Pelley asked.

"That children disappear without their parent's knowledge. That we have desperate parents looking out there every day. I get parents saying, 'Could you find my child?' And that they end up in wretched orphanages without even knowing, anybody knowing, they're there," she explained.

We caught up with Pastor Vaval again in early February. It had taken weeks to gear up the registration of lost children. Vaval took a break from his work at the Global Orphan Project to go with his wife to the Red Cross to report Jean-Mark as a missing person. He also returned to his son's school.

"This is Jean-Mark's school, pancaked all the way down to the ground and these are some of the desks the children were using when the earthquake hit," Pelley said, standing atop the rubble of the school. "We don't have any idea how many kids are still entombed in this building, but it is many. It is a terrible thing to contemplate but the fact is for thousands of Haitian families they will never know whether their children were killed and if their children lived they may never find out what became of them."

Maybe it was to keep his mind occupied, but Vaval was working night and day. He traveled to neighboring islands to check on orphans, and he preached to his own congregation amid the rubble of his broken church. He told us no matter what happened to Jean-Mark, his son was in the hands of God.

"I never worry about tomorrow. Never. Tomorrow will be good because it's in God's hands," Vaval told Pelley.

The Global Orphan Project was started by Mike and Beth Fox of Kansas City. He'd made a fortune in business, so seven years ago they decided to give back with just a few orphanages.

They were planning to build maybe ten homes, but instead have well over a hundred worldwide. "We have 20 locations in Haiti, we have several in Southeast Asia, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, a couple, one in Trinidad, Honduras and then the rest are in Africa," Mike Fox explained.

In Haiti, Global Orphan was already caring for more than 2,000 children before the quake. Now they were taking on more.

We met 13-year-old Renise in the camp. Rescue workers had picked her up from the quake-ravaged streets. It's hard to believe, but the quake was, to her, a blessing: it ended a nightmare of a childhood. Months before the quake, Renise was raped and became pregnant.

But there was more: she was also the victim of something almost unimaginable in this day and time. Renise had been given away as a child to become a household slave for another family.

"There were moments when I would just stop and cry. I cried because they made me work like a donkey. Their daughter never picked up one bucket when I was there. Not once," Renise told Pelley.

She said the family didn't treat her like their daughter. "I used to sleep on the floor."

"The daughter slept in the bed and you slept on the floor, is that right?" Pelley asked.

"Yes," Renise replied,

Child slaves in Haiti are called "restaveks," which in Creole means "stays with" - as in one who stays with the family but isn't part of the family.

It's a grotesque tradition, especially for a country born out of a slave rebellion. But it is not illegal. The U.N. estimates that there are about 175,000 restaveks. That may sound like a huge number, but others believe there are many more.

"If there are 300,000 or 400,000 restavek children in Haiti, those children are me. They are who I was," Jean-Robert Cadet told Pelley.

Cadet was a restavek who was given away by his father when he was four years old.

Asked what the worst abuse was that he suffered, Cadet said, "The worst abuse, wow. I was beaten, I would say, almost every morning. A lot of time, it's not the beating which is the worst abuse. I mean, you're a child you get a beating, it's over. But it's when the family leaves the house. And they lock the house and leave you outside all day long without food."

Now Cadet believes children left alone by the earthquake will suffer in slavery. "They would be absorbed into the communities as restavek. Friends will pick them up, distant relative, an uncle or an aunt. Yes, they will become restaveks," he said. "The earthquake created more slaves. Not create slaves, create more slaves.

As a boy, Cadet moved with his owners to America. Eventually they threw him out. But with a teacher's help, he managed to finish school, become a U.S. Army Ranger and then a teacher himself.

Now Cadet works to free child slaves. But since keeping a restavek isn't illegal, he has to persuade owners to release the kids.

"You can tell she has scars. She is whipped severely. And you can see her face, she has scars on her face," Cadet said, pointing out a restavek girl. But the woman who keeps the girl says, "'She's well,'" according to Cadet, "'There's nothing wrong with her.'"

He wasn't able to talk the woman into releasing the girl.

"And out of the more than 300,000 slave children in this country, you think you can make a difference pulling them out of families one at a time?" Pelley asked.

"You have to know somebody made a big difference in my life," Cadet replied. "You know, somebody did. And that person was a teacher. And this man helped me get into the welfare system. He tutored me every day. He gave me a chance. And I can come here to my country to make a difference in those kids' lives. So, saving one is worth it to me. It's worth it."

Renise, the pregnant girl from the emergency camp, is one who's been saved from a life of servitude. She's planning to go back to school and Global Orphan is speaking with a Haitian family about adopting her baby.

By the end of our six weeks, Global Orphan had taken in over 400 lost kids, it rebuilt that orphanage by the mango tree that we saw earlier, and it delivered tents and food to another 15 orphanages.

Some are getting just a little bit better.

Ten weeks after the quake, we went back to Jean-Mark's school. They had brought in heavy equipment and were digging through the rubble. It was then that Moise Vaval was pulled away from his work at the orphan project by a call from the workers at the site. They had found a book bag that belonged to Jean-Mark.

And not long after, his weeks of wondering came to an end.

A few days later, he brought his family to his own church, for the funeral service of Jean-Mark. He told us the moment was a grace from God, a blessing that he was able to bury his boy in a time when so many others do not know the fate of their children.

Produced by Solly Granatstein and Nicole Young

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