Safe Havens for the Children of Haiti

In a country where so many people are hungry and homeless, they may be the earthquake's most vulnerable survivors: children who now have to fend for themselves because their parents are missing or dead.

"We don't have a number yet, but with 150,000 people killed in the earthquake, one can imagine it will run in the thousands," said Kent Page of UNICEF.

Haiti already had too many unwanted children, even before the earthquake.

According to the U.N., the country has more than 300 orphanages, as well as places they call creches.

The kids in creches have families. But they can't afford to keep them. So they leave them with strangers, hoping that someone somewhere else will adopt them.

A Place to Go

At one creche ABC News visited, children slept on mattresses laid out on the gravel courtyard. They had only a couple of blue sheets for shelter. Many of the kids had chronic coughs.

The teacher who runs the place told us she had no idea how many kids are were -- though there seemed to be more than 100 ranging in age from newborns to age 7. All she could say for certain was that the numbers had grown since the earthquake.

The conditions were less than ideal. In fact, UNICEF is urgently trying to move the children to a more comfortable camp. But at least they're relatively safe from the predators out on the streets.

"They are young, they are innocent," she said. "Some people, some bad people ... can exploit them to do some bad things."

"They're vulnerable to violence," said UNICEF's Page, "They're vulnerable to abuse. It could be sexual abuse, what have you. There are also reports that we have heard, that are being investigated, of children being picked up and possibly illegally trafficked out of the country."

Trying for a Normal Life

The U.N. is just now starting to reach out to children who lost their parents during the quake.

The camp ABC News visited is the first of five camps where they will live temporarily -- a safe haven for songs, for games, even for bedtime stories.

"This is a safe place for these children," Page said "It's a place where they can resume a normal-type of life. They get into a routine where things are normal, stable and clean. So they respect each other and they respect themselves."

Some of them are orphans. Some may still have family members out there searching for them.

One group of girls was rescued from abusive homes. They had been sold to wealthy families as domestic servants. In many cases, they were treated no better than slaves.

Another boy had no idea what happened to his family. The psychologist on site said he was clearly struggling. But he appeared to be happy to play games with his new friends.

UNICEF will do its best to reunite the children with their extended families.

But unfortunately, there were only 58 children live in the safe haven at the time of the visit. Countless others are still out there on the streets, vulnerable to potential predators.

Click here for more a list of organizations helping victims of Haiti's earthquake" at the end of the Wright piece.

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