Haitian Judge Expected to Rule Today in Child Trafficking Charges

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

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.

Pastor: They Were There to Help, Not Kidnap

The U.S. pastor of five of the 10 Americans said the missionaries were there to help children, not kidnap them.

"I can assure you that the intent of our group going down there had absolutely nothing to do with kidnapping and everything to do with helping a desperate situation in Haiti," the Rev. Clint Henry, from the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, said on "Good Morning America.".

The 10 Baptist missionaries said they were attempting to bring the Haitian children to an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic when they were arrested Friday night at a border crossing.

"They were arrested on the border with children that were not theirs, and that they had no papers for," Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told ABC News. "For me, it's not Americans that were arrested, it was kidnappers that were arrested."

Henry said he spoke to the missionaries Friday night before they tried to cross the border, and they told him there was some confusion over what paperwork they needed to bring the children into the Dominican Republic.

"[They] indicated to me they were doing everything they could to work with the authorities to have the right paperwork and that became one of their frustrations -- not understanding everything they needed to have," Henry said.

Some of the children were apparently not orphans, said George Willeit of SOS Children's Villages, an nongovernmental international group.

"We already know that some of these children still have parents because an elder girl, maybe 8 or 9 years old, told us crying, 'I am not an orphan. I do have my parents. I thought I was going to boarding school or to a summer camp,'" Willeit said.

Henry said that the situation was "as much of a surprise to me as anyone else."

"The last that I knew is that we were working with a pastor who was dealing with an orphanage there, and I don't know any other information beyond that," Henry said.

The Americans are being held in a police station near the airport at Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, and have been visited by U.S. officials, according to a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Haiti.

"We came here simply to help these children, and we went to the border based on the approval of the Dominican government to take the children into the Dominican Republic and the pastor entrusting these precious children to our care because his orphanage collapsed and his churches collapsed, and he had nowhere for these children to go," the group's spokeswoman, Laura Silsby, said.

"In this chaos the government is in right now, we were just trying to do the right thing," she said.

When asked about the charges against them, several in the group simply responded to ABC News, "Philippians 1." The Bible's first chapter of Philippians chronicles the apostle Paul's time in prison for preaching the gospel.

ABC News' Kirit Radia, Ayana Harry and Steve Portnoy contributed to this report.

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