Haiti quake creates thousands of new orphans

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The 5-month-old patient at the Israeli field hospital has a number rather than a name.

No one even knows who dropped the barely conscious child at the makeshift medical center after he was pulled from the debris of a collapsed building four days after last week’s catastrophic quake. Now recovering, doctors have a difficult decision ahead.

“What will we do with him when we are finished?” said Dr. Assa Amit of the hospital’s pediatric emergency department.

No one knows who the boy’s family is, or whether any of his relatives are alive.

Tens of thousands of children have been orphaned by the earthquake, aid groups say — so many that officials won’t venture a number. With so many buildings destroyed and growing chaos in the capital, it is conceivable that many children are alone.

“As yet they are still on the streets,” said Elizabeth Rodgers, of the Britain-based international orphan group SOS Children. “Without doubt, most of them are in the open.”

Even before Tuesday’s deadly magnitude-7.0 earthquake, Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, was awash in orphans, with 380,000 children living in orphanages or group homes, the United Nations Children’s Fund reported on its Web site.

Some of the children lost their parents in previous disasters, including four tropical storms or hurricanes that killed about 800 people in 2008, deadly storms in 2005 and 2004, and massive floods almost every other year since 2000. Others were abandoned amid the Caribbean nation’s long-running political strife, which has led thousands to seek asylum in the U.S. — without their children — or by parents who were simply too poor to care for them.

International advocacy groups are trying to help, either by speeding up adoptions that were already in progress, or by sending in relief personnel who could potentially evacuate thousands of orphans to the U.S. and other countries.

On Monday, the Dutch government sent a planeload of immigration officials to Haiti who will try to locate and evacuate 100 children who were already being adopted by Dutch parents.

Also Monday, Indiana-based Kids Alive International, which runs orphanages around the world, is expected to take 50 Haitian orphans to group homes in the Dominican Republic, the organization said in a news release.

U.S. Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith said Monday that orphans who have ties to the U.S. — such as a family member already living here — are among those who can get special permission to remain in the United States.

Notwithstanding the U.S. policy, the Catholic Church in Miami is working on a proposal that would allow thousands of orphaned children to come permanently to America. A similar effort launched in 1960, known as Operation Pedro Pan, brought about 14,000 unaccompanied children from Cuba to the U.S.

Under the new plan, dubbed “Pierre Pan,” Haitian orphans would first be placed in group homes and then paired with foster parents, said Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami.

“We have children who are homeless and possibly without parents and it is the moral and humane thing to do,” Agosta said.

Archdiocese officials said many details would have to be worked out and President Barack Obama’s administration would have to grant orphans humanitarian parole to enter the U.S.

In the meantime, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said the United Nations is establishing a group whose mission on the ground in Haiti will be to protect children — orphans and non-orphans alike — against trafficking, kidnapping and sex abuse.

And orphanages that were operating in Haiti before the earthquake are scrambling to keep their kids safe, sheltered and fed. Those with damaged buildings are pledging to rebuild and take in more children, if needed.

Three of the four orphanages operated in Port-au-Prince by Planting Peace, a Melbourne, Fla., nonprofit, have been damaged, forcing staff to move everyone into one building. They are now trying to secure homes in Haiti for the kids, the group’s founder, Aaron Jackson, told The Associated Press in an e-mail. Rainn Wilson, who appears in the TV show “The Office,” is raising money for the group, Jackson said.

Jackson said all 37 of his orhpans are physically fine and he would like to help more children.

“There needs to be some communication from the government level about what we need to do. Can we take these children?” he said. “We’re ready. We’ve already raised a fair amount of money where we can go out and get an orphanage running soon.”

Sherrie Fausey had to evacuate 30 children from her Christian Light Foundation orphanage in the capital after her facility was badly damaged in the quake.

Fausey, a former Florida elementary school teacher who came to Haiti 10 years ago, acknowledges that her job — daunting before the quake — has become even more challenging now.

“Wherever the Lord sends you, he’ll make you content to be there,” she said. “Times can be hard, but I’d rather be here in all this rubble. It’s where my kids are.”

At the Israeli field hospital, doctors are expecting to treat many more orphans in the coming days.

On one of the hospital’s stretchers, Patient No. 236, a 6-month-old boy, lay on a hospital stretcher, crying in pain. Relatives brought him to the medical center shortly after the disaster, then left. They didn’t tell anyone the boy’s name.

Doctors suspect the infant had meningitis long before the earthquake — and they also suspect that no one is coming back for him.

“We will wait to discharge him until there is a facility that can grant continuous care,” Amit said.


Associated Press Writers Curt Anderson and Matt Sedensky in Miami and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.