PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Orphanages packed with little ones dot the landscape here, some with brightly colored signs outside their gates, others unmarked on back roads. But many of the children are not actually orphans, and a campaign is under way to close as many of the institutions as possible for good.
In the courtyard of one, Chris Savini, a missionary from Illinois, rocked a 10-month-old boy to sleep. The infant’s mother had died, and his father, Luxe Étienne, overwhelmed with eight children, turned over six of them to orphanages.
“He knew it was his son’s best shot,” said Mr. Savini, who arranged with the father for an American couple to adopt the baby from Mission Une Seule Famille en Jésus Christ, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
Such arrangements have long been commonplace here. After the earthquake in 2010, it became clear that most children in the hundreds of orphanages in Haiti have living parents, as 10 Americans were jailed for taking custody of 33 children they said they believed to be orphans and trying to cross into the Dominican Republic with them. All the children were subsequently found to have parents living in Haiti.
Since then, a consensus has developed among government officials, children’s advocates, religious leaders and others that a new approach is required, starting with a reduction in the number of orphanages. But the transition is not easy, and some question whether the country is ready for it.
Of the roughly 30,000 children in Haitian institutions and the hundreds adopted by foreigners each year, the Haitian government estimates that 80 percent have at least one living parent.
The decision by Haitian parents to turn their children over to orphanages is motivated by dire poverty. Also, large families are common, and many parents unable to afford school fees believe that orphanages at least offer basic schooling and food.I am currently reading Travesty in Haiti, by Timothy Schwartz, who did his anthropology Ph.D. in Haiti and lived and worked there for years in the 1990s and early 2000s. While it's self-published and full of editing errors, Schwartz documents countless scams that have been going on in Haiti for decades.