Aid Officials Say Most Children in Chad Adoption Controversy Deny They Are Orphans

International aid agencies are saying that most of the 103 children that a French charity was trying to fly from Chad to Paris last Friday have families. A spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency in Chad says the next step will be trying to locate those families. Kari Barber has more from our West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

United Nations refugee agency spokeswoman Annette Rehrl says United Nations and aid workers have, through interviews with the children, been able to identify where most of the children came from. And, they add, most of the children say they have families there.

"Eighty-five of them told us that they lived on the Chadian border with Sudan, so this is already some information we can follow and it is quite substantial especially if we keep in mind we have been talking to very, very small children," said Rehrl.

Rehrl says because of the age of the children involved, humanitarian workers must be careful about how details about their identity are released and how they are gathered.

"The majority are between three and five years old," she said. "This is why we are quite cautious with the information."

Sixteen Europeans, including journalists, charity workers linked to the French group Zoe's Ark, and a Spanish flight crew were arrested when they tried to board the children on a plane to Paris. They remain in Chadian custody and are facing charges of abduction and fraud.

A spokeswoman for Zoe's Ark has said the group was trying to rescue the children, orphaned by Sudan's Darfur conflict along the border with Chad. She says they wanted to save the children and did not intend to sell them for adoption, but only to give them homes in France.

But spokeswoman Rehrl says 91 of the 103 children say they were living with their families.

"So for us the most important thing now, and this will especially be the task of the International Red Cross and local authorities, will be to go to all of these villages they mentioned and to search for their parents and to start the family tracing, together with the pictures we did of the children to identify them, and to make sure that we find the families and to reunify them with families as soon as possible," she said.

Rehrl says the information is preliminary and needs to be verified. She says further interviews of the children will also need to be done.

The conflict in Darfur has spilled over into Chad, bringing hundreds of thousand of refugees and increased instability.

Authorities in the Republic of Congo said this week they have suspended all international adoptions in light of the events in Chad.


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