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Douglas R. Chalke
Executive Director, Sunrise Adoption, Vancouver, B.C.
August 24, 2010

Prior to the earthquake in Haiti that country had many orphans, estimated by various sources as between 50,000 and 380,000. Since the tragedy in January the number has increased, but no one knows yet by how many thousands. The CBC estimates there are currently in excess of 400,000 orphans in Haiti. The state of child welfare was perilous before the earthquake, with a 10% mortality rate in children under age 4 and an estimated 7% enslaved. Things are worse now. The need for permanent families for children with no options left in Haiti is great.

Adoption agencies around the world have been inundated with requests to adopt the orphaned children of Haiti. These include families who have never thought of adopting before, families who have been considering adoption for a while, and many who have homestudies ready and are waiting for a child.

At the time of the earthquake there were three groups of orphans:

  1. Orphans living in orphanages who were in the process of being adopted by a family in Canada, the U.S., Holland, France or other countries. The paperwork in these adoptions had reached a sufficient point that the governments of the receiving and sending countries were satisfied that the adoption had been or would be approved. These children have been able to leave Haiti for their adoptive families overseas, and then only by a personal signature of the President of Haiti on each file. Governments of overseas countries, U.S. adoption agencies or the U.S. military have flown the children to their new families and new countries;
  2. Orphans identified as eligible for adoption, perhaps matched and waiting for an adoptive family, but where the paperwork had not proceeded past the preliminary stages; and
  3. Orphans not matched with any adoptive parents or extended family members

The Government of Canada and the Minister of Immigration should be recognized for stepping up to the plate and bringing many children to a safe place and a new life. Adopting parents sometimes feel as if they are treated like second-class citizens. That did not happen here. Their interests and those of the children were of the highest government priority. Now that this group of children has left from Haiti, adoptions have mostly stopped. The question is what will happen next?

The sight of planeloads of children flying off to their various countries around the world has contributed to some backlash against international adoption. The New York Times has published an Aug. 3, 1010 article "After Haiti quake, the chaos of U.S. adoptions" which is quite critical of the U.S. adoption process during the airlift.

When American Baptist missionaries were caught trying to take a busload of Haitian children into the Dominican Republic it added concerns about child trafficking. There are several valid reasons for suspending adoptions after an upheaval such as war or natural disaster. It may take some time for family members to become reunited. For example after the tsunami in Malaysia in 2004 it is believed that no children were adopted internationally despite widespread desire to help from developed countries.

For a discussion of why it is not possible to adopt orphans at times of war and natural disasters, see War and Disaster.

[Editor's Note: For International Social Service's scathing summary of what went wrong after the earthquake ("The flurry of 'expediting' activities resulted in what one can only describe as chaos ... "), see the June 2010 pdf "Haiti: 'Expediting' intercountry adoptions in the aftermath of a natural disaster ...". ISS says, "in the aftermath of a catastrophe, intercountry adoption is not a valid response".]

Now that new Haitian adoptions have been largely stopped, the country's infrastructure has been demolished and ongoing adoption files are administered out of a tent, it provides a unique opportunity for everyone involved to assess the Haitian adoption process and decide what should happen next.


As of August 2010 this is the current situation in Haiti adoptions.

a) IBESR (the Haiti Social Services Department).

This organization is responsible for social services throughout the country. It currently has 50 employees, a few computers and is operating out of tents. The adoption files are still in the damaged headquarters building. Most of their work relates to pre-earthquake files.

b) Resumed Old Process

IBESR has announced that it will review new dossiers submitted post-earthquake. (The U.S. Embassy however has not yet received a new post-quake application.) These adoptions are proceeding under the old 1974 adoption laws. This process had its problems including uncertainty about time frames and process. The process was different from many other countries in the world in that adopting parents were proposed children near the start of the process and then spent years waiting for the approval process in Haiti to unfold.

The usual length of time from dossier submission to completion of the process is two years, however some take from three to five years. Many parents visited the children on one or many occasions over the years. It is questionable whether this system was in the child's best interest, as any lengthy delay for a child to join a family puts the child at risk of bad things happening to him or her.

c) Suspension of New Haiti Adoptions

Several countries have suspended any new post-quake adoptions from Haiti. These include France, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. The U.S. does not intend to suspend adoptions from Haiti. Germany will permit new post-Hague adoption in limited and specific cases. They are allowed to start new adoptions if the parents of the child are known and agree to the adoption.

In Canada the situation is more complex. The Canadian Hague Central Authority (HDRC) is seeking information from Haiti to determine whether the adoption process meets acceptable standards to protect children. In the meantime it appears that individual provinces may take action on their own, based on information available to them. The province of Quebec has suspended adoptions from Haiti. The province of British Columbia has suspended new, post-quake adoptions. Other Canadian provinces may introduce their own temporary halt to Haitian adoptions in the near future.

d) Orphanages

Before the quake, Haiti had 184 licensed children's homes and an unknown number of unlicensed ones. This number includes 67 crèches which are orphanages specifically licensed to complete adoptions. At this point very little aid has made its way to the orphanages and many are in desperate straits.


a) The Registries

There are over 3,000 NGO's working in Haiti. Several of them have decided to create registries to try and bring understanding and order to the chaotic children's welfare procedures. These include:

(i) The Registry for Institutionalized Children. The goals of this registry are to record the children's existence, for child protection, for case management, for domestic adoption and the health and education of the children.

(ii)The Birth Registry System. The OAS has been requested to create a system to record all new births in the country

(iii) Separated Children Registry. This has been created by UNICEF to record children separated from their parents (but not their extended family) by the earthquake. So far 1575 children have been registered and 250 of them reunited with their family.

(iv) Registry of Orphanages. No one really knows how many orphanages there are, where they are or what their situation is.

b) New Haitian Adoption Law

A new adoption law has been developed over many years. It was finally passed on May 7, 2010 by the Chamber of Deputies, however it was not passed by the Senate. When the government will finally pass a new adoption law is not clear, but presumably it is coming unless there is internal oppostion to it.

c) The Hague Adoption Convention

Almost all of the countries which adopt Haitian children, belong to The Hague Adoption Convention. If Haiti also joins the HAC, then most adoptions (perhaps all) would be required to follow the standardized Hague Convention process of adoption. The U.S. State Department may be influential in this decision. Since joining the Hague Adoption Convention, the U.S. has shown that it intends to make an impact on how adoptions are conducted worldwide. Since Haitian adoptions have largely stopped, expect several countries to offer Haiti advice on how to set up a Hague-compliant adoption program. The result could be that no new adoptions will be permitted until Haiti joins the Hague Adoption Convention. (Although as stated above Haiti has announced that it is open to receiving new applications).


With international aid and the world's focus on assisting Haiti to become a more stable country, efforts will likely be made to improve social services and focus on domestic adoptions. As the old saying goes "Prediction is difficult especially when it involves the future". It is possible however that Haiti may not be able to commence post-quake adoptions. Several NGOs, which are against international adoption, would like this to be the result. More likely there will be increasing voices calling for Haiti to join the Hague Adoption Convention.

We can only hope that the participants around the world involved in Haitian adoptions truly think about what is best for these extremely vulnerable children.
Douglas R. Chalke is executive director of Sunrise Adoption agency in Vancouver, British Columbia.

©2010 Sunrise Family Services Society

Previously published online at Sunrise Adoption as "Adopting from Haiti: what will happen next?".

Published Aug. 28, 2010, with an editorial note, at Family Helper,,.

Previously at Family Helper:
(Jan. 26, 2010)   Earthquake halts new adoptions in Haiti
(Jan. 25, 2010)   First Haitian adoptees arrive in Canada / Updates
(Jan. 24, 2010)   Haiti relief effort gets boost from Canadian business


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