The dust has settled after the January 12 Haitian earthquake, and the country is slowly beginning the process of rebuilding. The media focus has shifted to other news and other tragedies. If only Haiti had the luxury of moving on. Almost 300,000 Haitians were killed and 350,000 were injured. Morgan Freeman narrated a phenomenal video, with eerie footage from inside the Presidential Palace during the quake, documenting the extent of devastation. No reliable figures are yet available on the number of children orphaned in the quake, but we know there are many. A couple of people have written to ask about the status of adoptions from Haiti, so I thought I’d answer it here in addition to our Adoption Frequently Unasked Questions page.
There are four categories of Haitian orphans
Potentially adoptable children in Haiti can be divided into four categories.
- Category 1: Children whose adoption by a “foreigner” had been finalized in Haitian court and they were simply awaiting their documentation for travel.
- Category 2: Children who had been matched with an adoptive family but the adoption had not been finalized in court, but the parents had a “prior relationship” with the child.
- Category 3: Children who were declared “orphans” before the earthquake, but had not been matched with an adoptive family.
- Category 4: Children who have come into orphanages after the January 12 earthquake.
What is being done to speed adoptions?
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the US State Department, and the Haitian government agreed shortly after the quake to expedite the US immigration process to allow Category 1 and 2 children to come to the US. Approximately 900 of these kids are already in their new homes and another 350 are still being processed. Category 1 was fairly clear cut since the adoptions were already finalized, and the children simply needed permission to travel to the US without the usual travel document. Category 2 was trickier from an immigration and adoption standpoint, and the exact process for finalizing the adoptions and granting US citizenship hasn’t been completely worked out yet, but no one doubts that the adoptions will be processed and the kids will be granted citizenship.
What’s happening to the pre-quake orphans?
It is not clear what will happen with the children who were eligible for adoption prior to the earthquake, but had yet to be matched with an adoptive family (Category 3). It’s hard to make any generalizations about adoptions from Haiti. The current law is very restrictive about who is allowed to adopt (e.g. married 10 years and childless, or single and childless); however, prior to the quake it was possible to request a presidential waiver to adopt if you did not meet these requirements. Adoptions for parents that met the strict criteria often took 2-3 years, and all bets were off on how long it would take for parents that did not meet these restrictions and were requesting a presidential waiver.
A law to revise the Haitian adoption laws has been pending in Haiti’s Parliament for over a year prior to the earthquake. This law would allow adoption by couples married five years and families with up to two children (biological or adopted). I don’t know how much support exists in Parliament for this bill or how the negative publicity caused by the American group caught trying to bring a group of Haitian children to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic will affect its chances of passing. No doubt the Haitian Parliament has a lot on its plate right now, and this bill is not their top priority. This session of Parliament ends in May, and I suspect that the chances are not great that this bill will be considered before then. So, it looks like we will be working under the old adoption law for the foreseeable future, but most adoption folks are predicting that presidential waivers will be harder to get since the presidential offices are swamped with other more urgent business post earthquake.
There is a bill pending in the US Congress that would expedite the adoption and immigration of children caught in Category 3 since the adoption process in Haiti shut down after January 12. Although I hope I’m wrong, I doubt this bill will pass. The US seldom acts to circumvent another countries adoption procedures or to expedite the usual immigration process. The Haitian adoption authority signaled that they do not need this help when they recently started accepting adoption dossiers (adoption applications and supporting paperwork) again. Acceptance of dossiers in theory means that there is no need for the US to act, but in no way means that children will be placed with families anytime soon. The Haitian courts and other necessary infrastructure are barely functioning at present. Many other urgent matters need attention. Adoptions are not at the top of the list.
What’s happening to the earthquake orphans
No one is suggesting that children orphaned in the earthquake (Category 4) become available for adoption in the near future, since it is too early to tell whether they are truly orphaned. Extended family either in Haiti or abroad may be willing and able to raise them. The European Parliament and various aid organizations, such as UNICEF and Save the Children, have suggested a two year moratorium on adoptions to allow for this process. I don’t pretend to know how much time is needed, but we must balance the preference for extended families to raise their children with the need for a permanent family as soon as possible. At some point, all agree that many of these children will be declared orphans and eligible for adoption. Unfortunately, unless the Haitian adoption process is reformed, the reality is that most of these children will spend far too much of their childhoods in an institution, on the streets, or working as a domestic servant. It’s hard to imagine a scenario under the current law where any of these children will be adopted within the next three years, and it will likely be much longer for most. Three plus years is an eternity in childhood.
P.S. The needs in Haiti extend far beyond the needs of orphans. Haiti needs the help of the world to rebuild after the earthquake and to employ its citizens. There is a movement by some companies, including Old Navy and The Gap, to move some of their textile manufacturing to Haiti. We need to support this effort by choosing products manufactured in Haiti. Check out this cool article in Time magazine about these efforts.Image credit: Living Water International