PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Jean Peterson Estime was outside playing soccer when his home pancaked in last week’s earthquake and killed his parents and five sisters.
Now he sleeps with thousands in a Port-au-Prince park and forages in rubble for food and goods he can sell to survive.
“I’m trying to get a little job so I can take care of myself,” he says, attempting to look brave even as he shuffles his dirty feet in too-big sandals.
What the 13-year-old really wants is someone to take him in.
Tens of thousands of children have been orphaned by the magnitude-7.0 quake, aid groups say – so many that officials won’t venture a number. With buildings destroyed and growing chaos in the capital, they say many children are like Jean – living alone on the streets.
“Without doubt, most of them are in the open,” said Elizabeth Rodgers, of the Britain-based international orphan group SOS Children.
Even before Tuesday’s quake, Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, was awash in orphans, with 380,000 children living in orphanages or group homes, the United Nations Children’s Fund reported on its Web site.
International advocacy groups are trying to help, either by speeding up adoptions that were already in progress, or by sending in relief personnel to evacuate thousands of orphans to the U.S. and other countries.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday announced a humanitarian parole policy that allows orphaned Haitian children into the U.S. temporarily on a case-by-case basis, so they can receive the care they need.
More than 50 children, most of whom already have adoptive families waiting for them, arrived in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. After receiving initial medical treatment, they were taken to a “comfort center” with food, drink and toys, where they will stay until they are placed with foster families.
About 100 other children from the same orphanage, which was destroyed in the quake, are being cared for by Dutch and French agencies.
A charter plane is heading to Haiti to pick up 109 children being adopted by Dutch families and will reach Port-au-Prince today, according to the Dutch government.
Indiana-based Kids Alive International, which runs orphanages around the world, is expected to take 50 Haitian orphans to group homes in the Dominican Republic, the organization said in a news release.
Notwithstanding the U.S. policy, the Catholic Church in Miami is working on a proposal that would allow thousands of orphaned children to come permanently to America.
Meanwhile, U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said the United Nations is establishing a group in Haiti to protect children – orphans and non-orphans alike – against trafficking, kidnapping and sex abuse.