Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Homeless Haiti quake victims abandoning kids


‘No choice but to give her away’

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The catastrophic earthquake that left at least 1.3 million of Haiti’s 9 million people homeless was the final push over the edge for families that could barely afford to feed their children before.

Now stuck in leaky tents with dwindling aid handouts, Haitian families are abandoning their children in the hope that rescue organizations will offer them a better life, aid workers say.

A 4-day-old baby girl was left in a cardboard box outside a hospital. Toddlers are being found alone in hospital waiting rooms. Outside a private clinic, volunteers found a 3-year-old holding a bag of carefully folded underwear. A note pinned to his shirt asked those who found him to look after him.

Even before the magnitude-7 quake, poor parents left children at orphanages where they would at least receive one meal a day. Now the number of abandoned children has skyrocketed, said 37-year-old Tamara Palinka, who helped coordinate logistics at the University of Miami-run field hospital on the grounds of the airport.

“I personally talked a lot of mothers out of giving up their children,” said Palinka, who cordoned off a space inside the field hospital’s pediatric tent for abandoned children, including another toddler found crawling on a garbage heap.

Orphanage workers say their facilities are swelling with children who are not orphans.

Nadine Jean-Baptiste, 35 years old and HIV-positive, recently left her 2-year-old daughter, Christine, at an orphanage down the street from the storage shed where she now lives.

“I love my child. Giving her away is not my wish,” she said, her voice choked with sadness, her body thin as an ironing board from the disease. “But I have nothing to feed her. I have no choice but to give her away.”

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