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About the Smuggling of Haitian Children by US Missionaries

Updated on September 16, 2010

In the wake of the catastrophic quake that struck Haiti earlier in the year, 10 Americans from two Idaho-based Baptist churches made the headlines following their arrest for attempting to smuggle 33 Haitian children out of the country.

As the report went, they were nabbed on Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic while trying to cross the border with a busload of these children (ranging in age from 2 months to 12 years) they claimed were orphaned by the Jan.12 earthquake.

Haitian authorities indicated that they lacked proper authorization to take the children out of the country and formally charged them with kidnapping and criminal association.

Initially, the Americans naturally denied any ill intentions. They maintained that they were simply taking the children to a converted orphanage in Cabarete, the Dominican Republic. But as their detention wore on and the story unraveled, they admitted to knowing that what they had done was wrong.

Not surprisingly, most of the children later turned out not to be orphans as originally purported. Some of the Haitian parents admitted to ‘voluntarily’ handing over their children to the missionaries in hopes that they would get an education and a better life.

A lot of people and institutions were appalled. Some condemned the actions of the visitors as aberrant and reprehensible. Others called them mean-spirited and unconscionable. Several US-based Baptist Church groups sought to distance themselves from the missionaries. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, dubbed the Americans' behavior "unfortunate, whatever the motivation."

It has been nearly two months since this story broke. The news cycle has spurted and the public outrage has died down. But the significance of this event remains rather haunting.

At a human level, it is frightening to see how predatory and brutish our world has become. The global economy has become so lopsided and things have gotten so bad in some quarters that the wretched are now bequeathing their offspring to strangers not because of any known inherent cognitive or behavioral handicaps but simply on account of their poverty.

On the video feeds of the drama, it is quite blood-curdling to see parents standing around with a forlorn look of destitution and despair as their children bemoan the loss of strangers they barely know but are comfortable referring to as their ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers.’

At a more personal level, ‘voluntary’ or not, it is particularly troubling to see little black children rounded up, uprooted from familiar surroundings and carted off by white missionaries interested in ‘saving’ them. It is almost unfathomable to imagine the reverse: African traditional religion practitioners swooping down in Central Europe or Idaho and leaving with dozens of blonde, blue-eyed children in tow!

By the same token, for the Haitian parents willing to ‘voluntarily’ hand over their children to total strangers, with the grim possibility never to see them again, one can only shudder at such ignominy. What about their immediate circumstances could remotely justify an action so undignifying and abundantly irresponsible?

Could it be emblematic of a larger psychological syndrome? The fact that a lot of continental Africans as well as African descendants in the Diaspora have a tendency to, driven by deep-seated complexes, generally look outside of themselves for answers to some of life’s challenges and in this particular instance, white missionaries?

I understand that the implication of the judgments flowing from this situation may be lost on a great many people but even that is quite unfortunate.

After stating that “they were going down there to love them,” a family member of one of the missionaries reportedly added "to have it turned around and basically be imprisoned for loving somebody in the conditions that they're in, it completely breaks my heart and they don't deserve it." Not only is this position lacking in both merit and basic human empathy, it is intensely naïve, snobbish and callous. It is audacious and very arrogant to think that you could address inequities forced by an unjust international economic system from which one is a direct beneficiary by simply sharing or showing this kind of “love.”

A local Haitian community leader responded in a way that was poignant and, therefore, deserving of mention. Max Beauvoir said “I have seen those missionaries coming here, supposedly sent by Jesus to save us. From what? I don’t know.”

It is unquestionable that the Haitians need a lot of help to rebuild their country and reinstitute some semblance of order or normalcy in their lives. However, they did not get in their current situation because of some spiritual void and certainly can do without the sort of assistance that the Idaho missionaries went to offer.

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