Good Intentions: Not Good Enough for Haiti's Children

This evening I walk up a steep hill covered in makeshift huts made of floral pattern sheets hiked up on anything that will hold them. I speak to a mother who is living in a fragile shelter perched on precarious rubble.

"We are worried about people who come to pick up our children," she said. "It has happened here."

At crossroads next to a flattened school, a man waited patiently behind the roped area as World Vision gave families rice this morning. Since the earthquake struck Haiti three weeks ago, he hasn't seen his seven-year-old daughter. He shows me Jaymmiqua's birth certificate and explains he has done everything he can think of to find her.

"I tried to look for her but I couldn't find any information," he said. "The neighbors said they don't know where she is. The way the house is broken there's no way to check inside. It's like my soul has disappeared with my daughter."

This afternoon I talked to children who had found a safe and fun place to play at World Vision's children's play area. I met a nine-year-old girl whose Mum was killed instantly in the quake, while her father, severely injured, was flown to Santo Domingo for urgent medical treatment.

"I'm afraid of another earthquake," she said. "I'm afraid to be alone. I'm afraid of people who may come to do bad things to me."

A 12-year-old boy lives on a roundabout in what used to be the wealthier part of town. Since his Mum died, he is living with his Aunt and two cousins. He told me what happened on the day of the quake.

"I was on the street near my house and I felt a shake and I saw lots of dust," he said. "I just stood there. If I was supposed to run, I don't know where I was supposed to go.

"My Mum was at the open market and when she tried to come back home, some blocks fell on her and killed her. People found her and I saw her. I felt shaken because I lost my mother.

"My father has been living in Santo Domingo before the earthquake. I don't know anything about him. I have a brother and sister but we are not together," he said.

When the earth split and plunged Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas into chaos, it did not just destroy lives, businesses, and buildings. The earthquake split families apart and left many children alone and vulnerable.

Just as the recovery following such a catastrophic disaster will take a long time, it will take weeks and months for children to be reunited with their parents and for parents to find their children.

As just one day in this densely-populated city proves, the problem is complex. And as with most complex issues, there is no quick-fix solution.

As this week has shown, children separated from their families are at risk of abuse and exploitation, trafficking or losing their identities permanently if they are not rapidly registered for family tracing and reunification.

World Vision has called on a halt to all new international adoptions, while working hard to protect and identify children in Haiti and over the long-term will help strengthen community networks and support systems.

Taking children out of the country in the midst of chaos will permanently separate thousands of children from their families -- a separation that could compound the acute trauma they are already suffering and inflict long-term damage on their chances of recovery.

As I and the woman agreed as we stood next to her temporary shelter over-looking the destruction of the quake, let's not let the genuine desire to help those in need become an excuse for short cuts or easy answers.

Anna Ridout, WV Haiti Earthquake Response Communications Team