PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A Haitian judge on Tuesday questioned a group of U.S. Baptist missionaries arrested trying to leave Haiti with a busload of children they gathered from the disaster zone.
The investigating magistrate met with the five women for several hours at judicial police headquarters, where they are jailed, and will follow up with the five men today, according to the Haiti’s communications minister. No lawyers were present.
The judge is to report to a district attorney, who decides if the Americans are to be formally charged with a crime.
Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said the evidence will be presented to a Haitian district attorney to decide whether to file charges. She denied allegations by an attorney for the Americans that they were being subject to “inhumane” conditions.
The Baptists from Idaho say they were only trying to help orphans survive the earthquake. But legal experts say taking children across a border without documents or government permission can be considered child trafficking.
At the SOS Children’s Village orphanage where authorities are protecting the 33 children, regional director Patricia Vargas said none who are old enough and willing to talk said they are parentless: “Up until now we have not encountered any who say they are an orphan.”
Vargas said most of the children are between 3 and 6 years old, and unable to provide phone numbers or any other details about their origins.
The Americans apparently enlisted a clergyman who went knocking on doors asking people if they wanted to give away their children, the director of Haiti’s social welfare agency, Jeanne Bernard Pierre, told the Associated Press.
“One child said to me, ‘When they came knocking on our door asking for children, my mom decided to give me away because we are six children and by giving me away she would have only five kids to care for,’ ” Bernard Pierre said.