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New Haitian adoptions in doubt

BY ROBIN HILBORN, Family Helper editor

(Aug. 28, 2010)   As of August 2010 IBESR (the Haiti Social Services Department) has 50 employees and a few computers, and operates out of tents. It is working mostly on pre-earthquake files, which are still in the damaged headquarters building. However it has announced that it will review new dossiers submitted post-earthquake, under the old 1974 adoption law (with all the uncertainty about time frames and process).

Some countries have suspended post-quake adoptions from Haiti, including France, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands, but not the U.S.

In Canada two provinces have announced a halt to new post-quake adoptions: Quebec and British Columbia. Other provinces may follow.

With the focus on helping Haiti become a more stable country, efforts will likely be made to improve social services and stress domestic adoptions. It's possible that Haiti may not be able to complete post-quake adoptions.

2010 was marked by a brief surge in emergency adoptions from Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. Dr. Peter Selman, commenting on the future of intercountry adoption, said that this surge is unlikely to be repeated in subsequent years.

It's not known when normal adoptions from Haiti might resume, as explained in the article by Douglas Chalke, "When will Haitian adoptions start again?".

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".

Earthquake halts new adoptions in Haiti—Americans arrested at border

(Jan. 31, 2010)   The Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake has halted new adoptions in Haiti. Government offices are in ruins; records are destroyed. (CNN reported that the country's top adoption judge, Judge Rock Cadet, was killed when the courthouse collapsed.) For now it is extremely hard to know if children are truly orphans, or if they have some family in the country. Indeed, many children in Haitian orphanages or reception centres aren't orphans but were placed there by family unable to care for them. Adoptions of such children are not possible while there are still relatives who can raise them.

Amid concerns that child traffickers could try to exploit the chaos following the earthquake, the government now requires Haitian Prime Minister Max Bellerive to personally authorize the departure of every child. Well-meaning groups taking matters into their own hands have run afoul of this requirement.

Haitian police arrested ten Americans on Jan. 30 as they tried to cross into the Dominican Republic in a bus with 33 Haitian children from a youth reception centre [centre d'accueil] in Croix-des-Bouquets. The children were two months to 12 years old and lacked proper documents.

The ten Americans, from two Baptist churches in Idaho, wanted to take up to 100 children to a proposed orphanage in the Dominican Republic. "This is totally illegal," said Yves Cristallin, Haiti's social affairs minister. "No children can leave Haiti without proper authorization."

The 33 children were brought back, to stay at the SOS Children's Village at Santo, 15 km from the capital. They were not orphans, according to regional director Patricia Vargas. She said officials at the Haitian Institute of Social Welfare told her "most of the kids have family." International adoptions "should be avoided until every effort has been undertaken to reunite each child with her/his family or to provide suitable care within the country."

With services in disarray, it make take several years (Adoption Council of Canada) before Haitian authorities are able to follow the prescribed steps: try to re-unite a child with family members, ensure the child is an orphan and allow for possible domestic adoption. International adoption could start again only when authorities in Haiti can eliminate the possibility of families caring for orphans within Haitian borders.


As for adoptions already in progress, some are being fast-tracked. Countries are struggling to rescue those children already established as orphans and eligible for foreign adoption before the earthquake. Emergency airlifts are carrying out children who were already matched with parents abroad. Where the paperwork is not complete, emergency documents are issued and the process is finished abroad, supervised by foreign authorities.

As an example of special procedures, Canadian Immigration Minister Kenney announced Jan. 20 that once Haitian authorities have approved a list of children allowed to go to Canada, immigration officials will issue the children temporary resident permits so they can enter the country. The federal government will waive regular processing fees and will pay for health costs until they can be covered under provincial programs.


Here are some examples of efforts made to bring adoptees out of Haiti:

Canada -- 217 Haitian adoptees have permission to leave. 179 have arrived in Canada, on multiple flights.

France -- 904 French families have applied to adopt from Haiti. France will immediately take in 276 children already matched with French parents.

Netherlands -- 123 adopted Haitian children flew to Eindhoven on Jan. 21.

U.S. -- State Department said it's working on nearly 300 cases of Americans adopting Haitian children; 200 of those cases are being accelerated. 53 children rescued from the damaged Bresma Orphanage in Port-au-Prince arrived in Pittsburgh on Jan. 19.

For more news, see Haiti Update.


After the 2005 Asian tsunami disaster many people wanted to adopt "orphan" children. The same rule applies to Haiti as applied then: "Accepted international practice is to try to find a home for orphaned children in their own country before uprooting them to a foreign country and culture."


A coup d'état ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004. Civil instability brought the adoption process to a temporary halt. Families lived through anxious months when they were unable to bring to Canada the Haitian children they had adopted in 2003. Adoptions resumed but by May 31, 2004 Foreign Affairs warned Canadians not to travel to Haiti unless absolutely necessary, and the Canadian Embassy in Haiti strongly discouraged adoptive parents from travelling to Haiti to pick up their children.

In its travel advisory of May 31, 2004,, the Department of Foreign Affairs warned Canadians not to travel to Haiti unless they have critical or compelling business or family reasons, citing increased criminal activity and lawlessness throughout the country. The Canadian Embassy in Haiti is strongly discouraging adoptive parents from travelling to Haiti to pick up their children. Canadian officials will contact them as soon as the situation in Haiti allows adopted children to travel to Canada. A child must have a Haitian passport to leave Haiti.

Official warning: Do not travel to Haiti -- In its July 18, 2005 travel report, Foreign Affairs advised against all travel to Haiti. Criminal activity, police reprisals and lawlessness are persistent throughout Haiti. Kidnappings and carjackings are frequent. Personal safety cannot be guaranteed by local authorities, and police no longer have a presence in certain cities. Canadians who decide to travel to Haiti despite this warning should monitor local news reports and exercise extreme caution at all times. [Foreign Affairs Canada,, July 18, 2005]

Requirements easing -- Although Alberta has had no official notification of this change in Haiti's requirements for adoptive families, practice confirms that a prospective adoptive parent must be older than age 35; for married couples, one parent may be under age 35, provided the couple has been married ten years and has no children together. Haiti may lower its age requirement. Requests to have the age requirement waived must be submitted in writing to the Institut du Bien Etre Social et de Recherches (IBESR, the Haitian adoption authority). However, a local adoption agency reports that IBESR agreed to sign dossiers for parents 28 years or older, married for at least five years and with no biological children. They also say that the President will sign for those who have no more than three biological children, but all files for families with more than three biological children will be refused. Haiti still permits adoption by single parents. [Alberta Children's Services,, July 2005]

In its travel report of Aug. 28, 2006, Foreign Affairs advised Canadians against all travel to Haiti, for the same reasons given in the July 18, 2005 report (above).

In its travel warning of Jan. 10, 2007 the U.S. State Dept. warned U.S. citizens of "ongoing security concerns in Haiti, including frequent kidnappings of Americans for ransom. Travelers are strongly advised to thoroughly consider the risks before travel to Haiti, and to take adequate precautions to ensure their safety if they do so." Over 50 Americans were kidnapped in 2005, and over 60 in 2006, most in Port-au-Prince. State Dept. advised vigilance due to the absence of an effective police force in much of Haiti.

In its travel report of Mar. 8, 2007, Foreign Affairs maintained its advice against Canadians travelling to Haiti. Those there should consider leaving if their presence is not essential. The Embassy of Canada in Port-au-Prince is open but all dependants of embassy staff have been removed. If travelling to Haiti, ensure you are expected and are met at the airport. The security situation is uncertain. Police stations in several towns have been abandoned. Fuel and basic necessities are in very short supply in some areas, notably in the north.

Alberta Children's Services advised in April 2007 that Haitian adoption dossiers must include four passport photos of each applicant as well as pictures of the home and the child's room.

Halt in Quebec -- SAI announced on Apr. 17, 2007 that "temporarily" it would accept no new applications for Haiti while it meets with Haitian authorities to work out "certain procedures". Files in process will continue normally. The meeting will raise issues identified in the recent UNICEF report.

SAI met with its Haitian counterparts May 22-29, 2007. Discussions with IBESR focussed on the adoption process, which has become more and more complicated, prolonging the waiting time of Haitian children awaiting adoption. The new IBESR directors are aware of the system's deficiencies, and are tightening security measures and reviewing their adoption legislation. In the short term they plan to treat new files strictly according to the present law; files already sent to Haiti would be processed as usual. Thus Quebec adoption agencies (Soleil des nations and Accueillons un enfant) may once again take applications, but until a new law sets out new eligibility rules, agencies must strictly apply the 1974 Decree on Adoption. We suspect this applies to all Canadian agencies. The 1974 Decree says only couples married at least ten years are allowed (recently, unmarried couples together for five years were accepted); and applicants must be over 35 (recently, over 30). The criteria are in the SAI table "Conditions in Source Countries" (in French).

Americans showed increasing interest in Haiti, adopting 302 Haitian children in 2008, vs. 190 in 2007. In Canada it was the reverse, Haitian adoptions dropping 28% in one year, from 123 in 2006 down to 89 in 2007.

Through 2009 adoptions continued but travel to Haiti remained fraught with danger. U.S. authorities warned of serious risks for travellers. Foreign Affairs in Canada said Haiti is "relatively dangerous" to visit.

With the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, prospects of adopting in Haiti changed completely.


For more news, see Haiti Update.

For resources on Haiti adoption, see Adoption Resource Central, Country-specific Resources - Haiti.

Find an agency for Haiti: Agency Chooser,

Descriptions of agency programs are at Adoption Agencies,

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"From Family Helper,"

Country News is written by Robin Hilborn,
author of Family Helper,



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