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Relief Organizations Race To Find Unaccompanied Children in Haiti

  • Barry Newhouse

UNICEF is working with aid groups in Haiti to try to locate the scores of children who lost their parents in the earthquake. An informal grassroots networks in the tent cities of Port-au-Prince are a major part of the effort to find vulnerable children.

Arabic Dominique is a 12-year-old boy who until last Wednesday was wandering Port au Prince with hundreds of thousands of other newly homeless Haitians. He says "I was living in the streets until my Aunt saw me and picked me up. Then they brought me here."

Dominique is now in an SOS Children's Village in northern Port au Prince that has been caring for displaced children for some 30 years. Organizers now are quickly building temporary shelters for 150 new arrivals. Spokesman George Willeit says they are trying to find both children who are living on their own and those with only distant relatives who may not be able to care for them in the current situation. "One of the most important tasks now is to get unaccompanied children to safe places. To give them the shelter and the time they and the organizations need to trace if there are still parents or relatives to take care of them."

Haiti's prime minister recently said that child traffickers are targeting the scores of children now on their own in Port au Prince. UNICEF and other international aid groups in the capital are focusing their efforts on the temporary camps across the city to find at-risk kids.

Gracielas Ceballos is a Peruvian organizer with SOS who says that tent city dwellers in many parts of the city have organized ad-hoc leadership councils, that try to identify children who are not being cared for.

SOS and other aid groups then take the kids to temporary camps while they search for relatives. In the meantime, Ceballos says the children exhibit signs of serious psychological and emotional wounds. She says when the most recent group of children was driven to the shelter, they were traumatized by the vibrations of the dirt road. She says they thought they were back in an earthquake and began to panic.

Many of the children at the facility now only sleep in tents outside, even though the sleeping quarters were not damaged in the earthquake. SOS has flown in 20 additional staff members to this facility, including social workers and psychologists to help them deal with their trauma.

Dominique was being raised by his mother when the earthquake struck. His father died years ago. Minutes before their house collapsed, she sent him out into the yard to study. He says she never made it outside.

He says that now he is not doing very well. He says he did not hurt himself when the earthquake came, but he frequently wakes up at night shaking.

Arabic Dominique and the other new arrivals from the earthquake will soon be joined by many more. But aid workers say they have no idea just how many more children are now living alone in Haiti's desperate conditions.