In the fall of 2008, a pastor traveled through the barren countryside of Haiti asking parents to give him their children. He promised an education and a better life at an orphanage he said was bankrolled by Americans.
Twenty-eight children were sent with the pastor. But his promise proved false: Within three months, one child had died, and two dozen more were sick and emaciated when discovered by Haitian police, according to United Nations reports on the incident.
Even before the Port-au-Prince earthquake left as many as 300,000 children homeless — and before the spotlight fell on 10 Idaho missionaries charged with kidnapping Haitian kids — Haiti was a country where children were commonly reduced to a commodity. They were smuggled across the border as cheap labor, peddled for black-market adoptions, abandoned by their parents or forced into servitude, records and interviews show.
Despite the constant urging of human rights organizations, Haiti's government has made little progress toward protecting its children from exploitation or neglect, a Miami Herald examination found. By its own account, the government inspected only half of the country's documented orphanages — and no one can say how many orphanages work off the books.
The situation is sure to worsen. Thousands more children were left homeless or lost parents in the earthquake, while the country's feeble safety net was left in tatters.
"The government must care for the children," said Father Luc Jolicoeur of the Good Shepard orphanage in Port-au-Prince's Delmas neighborhood. He said no government inspector has ever visited his orphanage, where he fed oatmeal breakfasts to 78 boys Thursday morning.
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