Ten Americans Charged With Child Trafficking in Haiti; PM Calls It 'Kidnapping'

Ten detained Baptist church members say they were attempting to rescue children.

January 31, 2010, 11:18 AM

Jan. 31, 2010 — -- Ten Americans have been formally charged by Haitian authorities for what the prime minister called the "kidnapping" of Haitian children, the official told ABC News today.

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

The 10 Baptist missionaries, mostly from an Idaho church group, said they were attempting to bring 33 Haitian children to an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic when they were arrested Friday night at a border crossing.

"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.

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.

According to Bellerive, some of the children were not orphans and were asking about their parents. Haitian officials contacted the American ambassador "to let them know that there was American citizens involved in kidnapping."

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

Pastor: 'It Probably Comes Down to Paperwork'

The detained Americans are the first to be charged in connection to child trafficking since the country's devastating earthquake on Jan. 12. The quake reportedly affected around 3 million children, in many cases separating them from the their parents and leaving many vulnerable to traffickers.

"We have concerns about traffickers, we have concerns about pedophiles," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said at a briefing last week. "We've seen a couple of cases of those in recent days. So this is just something we are working collectively with those organizations that are actively trying to help children, people on the ground, be alert for this kind of danger."

The pastor for the Idaho church where five of the detained Americans are members insists their mission was innocent.

"Our team traveled down to Port-au-Prince with a desire to help rescue orphans," Clint Henry, pastor of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Idaho, told The Associated Press.

"It probably comes down to paperwork and we believed that we had done everything we needed to do but they're saying that something else needed to happen," Henry told CBS' Idaho affiliate 2News.

"I know there has been illegal activity down there and it's unfortunate that we would be associated with that," Henry said. "Our hope would be that this situation could be settled tomorrow, but we've been trying to bring those children out for days and days and days, so I don't know what to say other than God is in control and he's got it figured out and we're just trusting him right now."

The group is scheduled to appear before a judge in Haiti Monday, Henry said.

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