Haitian Judge Expected to Rule Today in Child Trafficking Charges

Reporter says she warned the Americans they could be stopped at the border.

ByABC News via logo
January 31, 2010, 11:18 AM

Feb. 2, 2010 — -- A Haitian judge is expected to rule today whether there is sufficient evidence to try the 10 jailed American missionaries for child trafficking. They were arrested for trying to bring 33 children they believed were orphans across the border to Santo Domingo.

The Americans have defended their actions, saying the paperwork was confusing and that they did not know the rules. But Anne-Christine d'Adesky, a journalist who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting in Haiti, said she told the missionaries they could be regarded as traffickers if they tried to cross the border without the proper documentation.

"I really have to let you know that you are very likely to be stopped at the border, and you may even be in trouble," d'Adesky said she told the Americans.

Laura Silsby, one of the people arrested, has pleaded ignorance, insisting she did not fully understand the procedures.

In an interview Sunday, Silsby told ABC News she believed an affidavit from a local pastor, along with approval from the Dominican government, was all the paperwork the group needed.

"Honestly, it's been a confusing process," Silsby said. "We have tried to figure out exactly what they wanted from us."

D'Adesky said she warned the missionaries the night before they entered Haiti. But, she said, Silsby and her colleagues chose to ignore that warning.

"They really felt like it was the Lord's intention they would be successful," d'Adesky said.

D'Adesky has since been in touch with United Nations authorities who are working with the Haitian government to protect children after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck the region on Jan. 12.

The missionaries have said the children were orphaned by the quake. But according to officials at the SOS Children's Village, which is now acting in loco parentis, more than half of the children are not orphans. Apparentl,y their parents willingly signed them over to the missionaries after being shown a flyer with a big house and a swimming pool promising a better future for their children.

Christopher de Bono, a spokesman for UNICEF, told ABC News, "What we know is that some of those children [in orphanages before the quake] weren't orphans."

"It's a phenomenon that we see around the world in very poor countries," de Bono said. "Parents who are having trouble feeding their children quite often seek to put them into institutions for the short term. Similarly, if they have health problems, just to try and get them the help they need."

He said the arrangement is usually seen by the parents as temporary.

"What Haitian children need right now is they need help where they are. They need to be protected, they need to be fed, they need to have proper food and sanitation... Ultimately, children are best off with their families," he said.

Due to the widespread destruction from the earthquake a trial, if there is one, may not be held in Haiti.

The U.S. State Department said the location of the trial is up to the Haitian government.

"Obviously, Haiti wants to determine the motives behind the movement of children between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. And we are assisting in every way possible. And once we know all the facts, then we'll determine what the appropriate course is. But the judgment is really up to the Haitian government," the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said.

Crowley said the State Department has been given "unlimited" access to the jailed missionaries, and that they appear to be treated well.