30,000 Haitian kids live in private orphanages. Officials want to shutter them and reunite families.

by Chloe Baker
Haiti Orphanage Closure

An estimated 30,000 children in Haiti currently reside in privately owned orphanages, many of which have reported instances of trafficking, forced labor, and various forms of abuse. Mylouise Veillard’s story is not uncommon among these children. She was only 10 years old when her mother left her in one of these facilities in southern Haiti with hopes of a better future. After enduring harsh conditions for three years, Mylouise and her brother, who faced even tougher times, represent the plight of these kids.

In light of these circumstances, the Haitian government has recently embarked on a mission to close these establishments. The strategy involves relocating hundreds of children back to their biological families. The individuals at the forefront of this initiative are social workers, armed only with a photograph and a vague locality of where the child was originally from.

Morgan Wienberg, the co-founder and executive director of Little Footprints, Big Steps, likens these social workers to detectives due to their tireless efforts. Despite the significant logistical hurdles in a country without residential phonebooks or proper addressing systems, these social workers are relentless. They traverse cities, towns, and villages, knocking on doors and showing people pictures of children, hoping someone recognizes them.

Unfortunately, they often discover that parents lost contact with their children due to the violence in their communities or due to orphanages relocating children without parental consent. This makes the process of reuniting families incredibly challenging.

Haiti, being the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, has numerous children, like Veillard and her brother, who are considered “poverty orphans”. Unable to provide for their children, parents often place them in orphanages hoping they would receive better care. Post the devastating 2010 earthquake, the number of such orphanages increased by 150%, further escalating the issues of trafficking, forced labor, and abuse.

According to a 2018 report, only 35 out of 754 orphanages met the minimum standards for operation. As a response, the government is taking steps to prevent the construction of new orphanages and shut down existing ones. This, however, is a dangerous task, as government officials face threats from orphanage owners who want to keep foreign donations, primarily from U.S. faith-based donors, flowing in.

For many impoverished families, orphanages are a necessary evil, as they cannot provide for their children or protect them from violence. Reunification efforts have been successful in rural parts of Haiti, where families can sustain themselves. It’s in these areas that nonprofits are working to support families post-reunification and ensure children don’t end up back in the orphanages due to economic struggles.

Reunification doesn’t always lead to ideal living conditions, but parents like Renèse Estève, Mylouise’s mother, believe their children are better off living in poverty than in abusive orphanages. They also work with mentors who help children navigate the transition back home, often through art and music.

The journey to closure is full of challenges, but moments of joy make it worthwhile. For Estève and her children, the day they reunited marked the start of a new chapter. She prepared two celebratory meals for her family, marking the beginning of their life together again. Despite all the struggles, she said, “We were a family again.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Haiti Orphanage Closure

How many children are living in orphanages in Haiti?

There are approximately 30,000 children living in privately owned orphanages in Haiti.

What are the living conditions in these orphanages?

Many of these orphanages have reported instances of trafficking, forced labor, and various forms of abuse. The children often live in harsh conditions with scarce meals and limited resources.

What is the government’s response to the situation in these orphanages?

The Haitian government has initiated a large-scale project to close these privately owned orphanages. They aim to reunite the children with their families or relatives.

Who are leading the efforts to reunite these children with their families?

Social workers are leading the initiative, armed with pictures of the children and descriptions of the neighborhoods where they originally lived.

What challenges do social workers face in this mission?

In addition to the emotional difficulty of the task, logistical challenges such as the lack of residential phonebooks and many families lacking a physical address or digital footprint make locating the families incredibly difficult.

What is the current poverty situation in Haiti?

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with about 60% of its population earning less than $2 a day. It leads to many parents being unable to provide for their children, often resorting to placing them in orphanages.

What steps are being taken to support families after reunification?

Nonprofits like Little Footprints, Big Steps, are helping to support families post-reunification. They build homes, provide agronomical assistance, and help families become self-sustaining, preventing children from returning to orphanages due to economic struggles.

More about Haiti Orphanage Closure

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Marie StClaire June 13, 2023 - 7:46 am

This is heartbreaking. I cant even imagine the pain of these kids and their families. What can we do to help??

Antoine D'Amico June 13, 2023 - 3:55 pm

It’s an awful situation, but i’m glad the govt is doing something. We can’t ignore these children anymore, it’s high time for change.

Claire Anderson June 13, 2023 - 4:15 pm

Heart wrenching. I wish the govt. acted sooner. at least they’re doing something now. It’s going to be a long road to recovery tho…

Olivia Clarke June 14, 2023 - 1:59 am

wow, just goes to show that family is really important. Even if they’re poor, the love they give is priceless. i hope these kids find their families soon.

Joseph Depardieu June 14, 2023 - 6:38 am

unbelievable that such places still exist! These kids deserve so much better. We all need to help out as much as we can, Haiti’s been through so much


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