In the days after the Haitian earthquake, Laura Silsby made a series of calls around the country to mobilize a trip to rescue orphaned children from the disaster. She enlisted members of her Baptist church and told them she had all the necessary paperwork. A few days later she was arrested along with nine other Americans while trying to bus 33 children into the Dominican Republic. She now claims to be a misguided good Samaritan but what the do-gooders allegedly did was not just misguided. It could be criminal, and Haitian authorities are right to hold them accountable.
It doesn’t help matters that we are learning that Ms. Silsby is in a significant amount of debt- trafficked children are a hot commodity, each one could fetch thousands and thousands of dollars in the illegal adoption market and goodness knows how much in more sordid markets. Clearly, complying with the law was not first and foremost on Ms. Silsby’s list of priorities. These children could never have been adopted by US citizens or anyone else. How would a court have verified their identity? Did Ms. Silsby stop by the public records office in Port Au Prince on her way to the Domincan Republic, rummage through the rubble and find copies of all of the birth certificates? Did she have the proper parental consents? Did a Haitian Judge release the children for adoption? No, No and No. A Dominican judge could not have issued adoption decrees for these kids. And even if one did, how would Ms. Silsby have gotten them passports to allow them to travel to the US with their adoptive parents? This is where her good samaritan story falls apart at the seams. As she knew then and we all know now- she could not and that is why she had to lie to get the kids accross the Dominican border. So we see that Ms. Silsby would never have been able to place these children for adoption as she claims- at least not legally.
The definition of “trafficking in persons” is a long one but the following clause is included in the definition “the transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of fraud, of deception, or the abuse of power of a person in a position of vulnerability”
So let’s analyze Ms. Silsby’s actions under the definition. Were the children “transported, transferred, harbored or received” by the individuals in question? Clearly, they were. Did the individuals in question use fraud, deception or abuse of power? Clearly, they did. Were the children and their parents vulnerable people? Undoubtedly so. If we look at the law and the facts- there is no doubt what happened is child trafficking. There is no sub clause that states “but it’s ok if you work for a church.”
The US hasn’t experienced anything close to the devastation caused by the Haitian earth quake in recent years. The only thing that comes to mind as being in the same ball park would be Hurricane Katrina. So let’s say the same individuals went to New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina and convinced some parents to hand their children over to attend “a camp” and then placed these children for adoption. We’d all be furious no matter how well meaning the rescuers were. We would expect criminal convictions and custodial sentences.
Even if we assume that all anyone wanted was for these Haitian children to have better lives, what allegedly took place was still wrong. Parents were asked to make a snap decision in a time of enormous stress and uncertainty. They received no counseling. They did not sign any documents. We don’t know if they even knew what they were doing- some were told that their children were going to a camp. Nobody confirmed that the people who were allowing the child to be taken were in fact the biological parents. There was a huge power differential here. How would these parents- who have no money, no resources, probably don’t have a telephone much less a computer- ever have been able to find their children or fight for their return once it dawned on them that their children were never coming back?
So what now? No harm, no foul. The children have been returned to their parents; shouldn’t we just leave it at that? I don’t think so. Somebody has to be made an example of and I think these 10 people are it. Haiti needs to take a stand and protect its children from all would be traffickers- whether the children are destined for adoptive parents in the US or the sex trade in south America. If there’s a prison still standing down there- that’s where these people need to go.