Posted Feb 04, 2010 10:42 pm CST
A lawyer for 10 Americans being held in Haiti for allegedly trying to take a busload of 33 children to the neighboring Dominican Republic without the government’s permission says his clients have now been charged with child kidnapping and criminal association.
Speaking after a closed court hearing in Haiti today, attorney Edwin Coq said he intends to seek the release of nine of the 10, who had no knowledge that they were doing anything wrong, recounts the Associated Press. Most are members of an Idaho-based Baptist missionary group that reportedly was trying to help the children after Haiti’s devastating earthquake last month.
The 10th, mission leader Laura Silsby, has admitted that she knew the group hadn’t sought official permission to take the children out of the country, but said they were just trying to help, the AP reports.
Silsby told CNN on Monday that the group had nothing to do with child trafficking. “We literally gave up everything and used up our own income to help these children and by no means [are we] part of that horrendous practice,” she said.
Under Haiti’s justice system, the trial of the 10 Americans will not be public. The judge in his clients’ case determined today that there is enough evidence to charge them, according to Coq, and will now consider the evidence. He could render a verdict in approximately three months.
The AP says no comment could be obtained from government officials in Haiti. If convicted, the 10 missionaries face prison terms of between 5 and 15 years.
Both the AP and the Guardian report that at least some of the children on the bus apparently were from the village of Calebasse. Their parents had given their permission for them to be taken to the Dominican Republic because they expected them to have a better life there.
“But according to locals, none of the children taken from Calebasse were orphans nor even particularly desperate. Few houses in the village have suffered any damage in the quake,” the Guardian writes.
The United States government spent over $100 million during the past two decades trying to help Haiti improve its police and courts, mostly during the 1990s. However, a Government Accountability Office report a decade ago found that many remained corrupt and ineffectual, reports USA Today.