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Haitian earthquake

Haiti: Missionaries charged with child kidnapping

Haitian mother: I willingly sent my sons to the Dominican Republic, but did not realize they were up for adoption.

CALEBASSE, Haiti — When the American Baptist missionaries came into this small village perched above the destroyed capital, Maggie Moise willingly gave away her 9-year-old twins.

She says she believed the boys would be better off growing up in safety in the Dominican Republic, as the missionaries promised. She waved goodbye as they were loaded onto a bus along with about 20 other children from here.

"The country is going to be bad for some time. I cannot help my children. So I gave my boys to the white people,” Moise, who has eight children, told GlobalPost.

The 10 missionaries, who were arrested last week while trying to take 33 children, including Moise's two sons, into the Dominican Republican without documentation or permission, were charged Thursday with child kidnapping and criminal association.

The kidnapping charges carry a possible prison sentence of five to 15 years, and the criminal association counts have potential sentences of three to nine years. They will face a criminal justice system in a country where the government is barely functioning amid the destruction and the chaos of the earthquake.

The missionaries' intentions for the children, as well as the manner in which they gathered them, has raised many troubling questions in a country which has long suffered from child trafficking. According to Unicef, as many as 2000 children may have been trafficked in Haiti last year through criminal gangs.

The fear is that this may just be the tip of the iceberg, with many children, including orphans, vulnerable to exploitation, black-market adoption and child prostitution rings.

The village of Calebasse is located in the hills above Port-au-Prince, looking down on the mile after mile of rubble that is the capital. In interviews with GlobalPost, Moise and other residents described what happened when she and other residents relinquished their children in exchange for a promise that they might be better off.

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Moise said her sons, Volmy and Kimley, were taken by the American Baptist missionaries, believing they would return to Haiti when they were older.

Moise, like other parents from the Haitian village of Calebasse, said she didn't believe she was putting her children up for adoption.

The missionaries, most of them members of a Baptist congregation in Idaho, said the case is a misunderstanding. They said they were saving desperate, abandoned children who had been orphaned in the earthquake. The case has come to involve the highest levels of the U.S. government, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who tried to intervene, but still the Haitian courts appear to be intent on prosecution.

The missionaries took the children from the remote village of Calebasse, which is an hour and a half trek from the destroyed capital by a treacherous dirt road. The breathtaking mountains were beyond the reach of the quake, save some minor damage.

Moise said she was contacted by called a man named Isaac who worked in the village's orphanage. Isaac told her “some white people” wanted to help her family, to provide a better life for them.

After negotiations with the American missionaries, with the local man acting as go between, she signed a paper allowing her sons to leave with the group.

Moise explained, "They told us ‘don’t worry everything will be fine’. They put the names of the children on a paper and asked me to sign the paper to accept. The white woman told me, 'Don't worry you will be able access your children.' They showed me a brochure of the place where the children would be going to live."

Moise said the American missionaries showed her pictures of a veritable paradise where her boys could grow up in safety and security before returning to help their parents.

Moise denied accusations that they had been given money for their children, or that they wanted their children to be put up for adoption. "They told us they were going to help my boys. I gave them my boys because there is nothing for them here."

Chesner was one of the 33 children taken by the missionaries, along with four of his siblings. Chesner said the missionaries came to meet his mother and told her, through intermediaries, that he would be better off with them in the Dominic Republic, because of “all the problems with health now, with flies from the dead bodies."

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GlobalPost eventually found this mother, Anna, in a badly damaged area of Port-au-Prince above the airport. She was reluctant to talk and denied any knowledge of a Haitian-American pastor who apparently assisted the Baptist missionaries in Port-au-Prince.

"I don’t know the pastor," she said, as an inquisitive crowd gathered outside the broken school that is now her home. Some of the crowd urged her not to talk. "I cannot talk because the police are investigated and they told me not to talk to journalists."

Calebasse residents and family members said villagers had gathered on a dirt soccer field as the Americans loaded as many children as they could on to a bus.

"When the white woman came to take my twin sons, she said she wanted to take even more children," Moise said. "They wanted to take so many with them. But the bus could not fit any more children."

At a camp near the airport, a group of orphans were being cared for in flimsy shacks constructed out of cardboard boxes. The orphanage where some of these children were previously living, the Children’s Foundation of Haiti, was destroyed in the earthquake and this is where they had ended up.

The father and son who run the orphanage said they had been approached by an American man offering money for children. He told them he was a pastor.

The director, Joseph Marcel, said the pastor donated money and food and asked if he could take three young children to the U.S. The American man specifically selected three young girls. He did not tell them his full name or any other details but promised to return to collect them in two weeks, Marcel said.

Marcel said he thought the man was just trying to help.

"He told me that he's very sorry for what has been happening but that he just wants to help them," said Marcel. "If someone wants to take them to the States with them, that would be good, but let's do it properly."

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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United Nations/Flickr

Missionaries reportedly tried take 33 children out of Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake.

“The country is going to be bad for some time. I cannot help my children. So I gave my boys to the white people.”

— Maggie Moise, who gave away her 9-year-old twins

Religious leaders ask for release

The text of a letter from religious leaders - Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, and the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council - to Haitian Ambassador Raymond Joseph:

My dear Ambassador,

On behalf of myself, my colleague, the Reverend Patrick J. Mahoney, and our combined constituency of some 90,000 member clergy and lay church leaders of the National Clergy Council, the Christian Defense Coalition and Faith and Action, I thank you for your gracious reception this morning at the Embassy. Please know of our continuing prayers and condolences for you, the Prime Minister, the President and all your fellow citizens.

Rev. Mahoney and I were delighted to report to you that our members continue to donate money, supplies and equipment to relief efforts in an unprecedented way. We will renew our appeal immediately and expect they will continue to do as much and more.

We also registered with you our deep distress and increasing concern over the detention and allegations against the church group that was admittedly transporting children to a safe haven in the Dominican Republic. This group, some of its members, their pastor, the Reverend Clint Henry, and their congregation of origin, the Central Valley Baptist Church of Meridian, Idaho, USA, are personally known to us. They are good people who have no history and no reason to engage in any action that would cause harm to children or their families. We ask the Government of Haiti to immediately release these individuals and drop any charges pending against them, as well as restore the integrity of their reputations by publicly stating such.

Please know these individuals acted with naiveté and in an unprofessional way in their desire to rescue children in distress, but they did not do so with an intent to harm those children. These individuals may be guilty of a disregard for normal procedures, but they are certainly not guilty of criminal or immoral acts.

We testify to these things as true based on personal knowledge. We therefore humbly appeal for their immediate release and full exoneration.

Thank you for your urgent attention to this matter.