US church: Our team was 'falsely arrested' in Haiti

A Baptist church in Idaho whose members were detained in Haiti for attempting to move children to the Dominican Republic has said its team was “falsely arrested” and that it is working to “clear up the misunderstanding”.

A 10-member team from several Baptist churches in the United States was arrested by Haitian officials Saturday after trying to take 33 children across the border to the Dominican Republic. The church members said they were bringing the children to an orphanage where they would be given medical and emotional care.

But authorities are concerned about child trafficking, a serious problem in quake-devastated Port-au-Prince where thousands of children are without parents or guardians.

Pastor Clint Henry of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho – the church where most of the members are from – on Sunday condemned child trafficking as a “wicked and evil practice”, according to The Associated Press. He also said the team was trying to rescue the children.

Haitian officials, however, say the team lacked the proper documents to transport the children out of the country. The children range in age from two months to 12 years.

A spokesperson for the Baptist team, Laura Silsby, 40, said the group did not pay any money for the children and learned about them through Haitian pastor Jean Sanbil, of the Sharing Jesus Ministries.

The group had planned to take the children to a 45-room hotel at Cabarete, Dominican Republic, where the children were to stay temporarily while a permanent orphanage was being built in the Dominican town of Magante. The Baptist team’s plan was to take 100 children by bus to the hotel at Cabarete, a beach resort.

Since the 7.0-magnitude quake, Haiti has suspended new adoptions over fears that children would be more vulnerable to child trafficking and that children with parents still alive could be accidentally given up for adoption. As a measure to prevent child trafficking, Prime Minister Max Bellerive has to personally authorise a child leaving the country.

The children involved in the incident with the Baptist team were taken to an orphanage run by Austrian-based SOS Children’s villages.

On Monday, the Baptist church team will appear at a hearing before a judge. The members were mostly from Central Valley Baptist Church, and also included those from its sister church, Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, and from Texas and Kansas.

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