The Obama administration is stressing the need for strict and careful scrutiny of international adoptions to ensure that the best interests of children are protected and families are not separated. The issue arose after Haitian authorities arrested 10 Americans for allegedly attempting to take children out of the earthquake-ravaged nation without permission.
The State Department says the desire to rescue Haiti's destitute children is understandable, but that care must be taken to ensure that adoptions do not separate youngsters from their existing families. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, says the United States will only grant visas to those foreign children who have been formally approved for adoption by their home countries.
"In any other instance, you truly do not know if you are separating a family or not," said Mills. "And I think one of the things that is uniquely important in these kinds of situations, given the vulnerability of children, is that we are all as an international community focused on that particular goal."
Mills spoke with reporters in Washington.
An untold number of Haitian children were orphaned by last month's earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding communities. In the weeks since, foreign interest in adopting Haitian children has skyrocketed. But aid groups that specialize in caring for the young, like Save the Children, say it can take months to conclusively determine whether a child has, in fact, been left without any surviving family members following a natural disaster.
The issue has gained prominence since Haiti arrested members of a U.S. church group, allegedly for attempting to take Haitian children into the neighboring Dominican Republic without the permission of Haitian officials.
Haiti has tough regulations governing adoptions but in the wake of the earthquake has suspended most foreign adoptions.
The State Department's Cheryl Mills says failure to respect due process in adoptions serves no one's interests.
"The real bottom line has to always be that we are seeking to always maintain families and children with their families when there are families present," said Mills. "And separating them does not ultimately serve the larger objectives that we have, which is ensuring that, in the end, orphans who are genuinely orphaned and have been adjudicated to be [adopted] end up with families who are seeking them."
Mills said U.S. officials have been in contact with their Haitian counterparts to ensure U.S. consular access to the detained Americans, but that the case has not been formally discussed between Washington and Port-au-Prince.