Saturday, February 6, 2010

Would-be non-orphan orphans were really restavecs

Earlier this week, I wrote about the Haitian "restavecs" and general Haitian predisposition towards sending your children off, years after they're born, to live with someone else – essentially putting them up for adoption – with the hopes that they'll be better off.

It turns out that this is probably what happened in the case of the infamous Haitian non-orphans being sent by American missionaries to a an orphanage in the Dominican Republic:

The Haitian government is accusing Laura Silsby and nine other American missionaries with illegally abducting 33 children, most of them from the small town of Callebasse, in the mountains south of the capital.

But some of the children's own families and friends here disagree. On Friday, some said they willingly handed over the children, want the Americans freed, and want them to continue with plans to have the children live in an orphanage in the Dominican Republic.

It makes sense. The Dominican Republic is much wealthier than Haiti, and they promised them that they would give them free yearly trips to see them (more than you get when you send them away to your cousin in Port-au-Prince). Contrary to the government's much-publicized concerns about kidnapping, the parents saw this opportunity as a blessing, and given their relatively modest hopes for their kids, they seem to have been realistic in their expectations:

He said he considered the chance to send two of his three children off to school no less than winning a lottery.

"The chance to educate a child is a chance for an entire family to prosper," he said, as neighbors—many of whom also sent children with the Idaho church group—nodded in agreement. To the question, what kinds of adults might these educated children become, they shouted: "nurse," "doctor," "airplane pilot," "mechanic," "plumber" and "someone with a job in an office."

In fact, the practice is so pervasive that for some of the children, this wouldn't have been the first time they were sent off by caretakers. The WSJ says this like it somehow implicates the missionaries in wrongdoing, but I think it's the opposite – it shows just how acceptable this is in Haitian society:

At least three people who agreed to send their children weren't their birth parents. Milien Brutus, 28, the brother of one nine-year-old boy, authorized passage with the Idaho group, as did Melanie Augustin, 57, who agreed to send a girl she adopted as an infant, nine-year-old Loudinie Jovene. Natanya Geffraid, a 24-year-old woman with no children of her own, signed off on sending a child to whom she said she is godmother.

Update: Here's an article (.pdf) about restaveks that's great, once you get past all the academese.

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