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UNICEF Warns of Missing Children in Haiti

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In a disturbing development, a number of children have gone missing from Haitian hospitals, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Friday.

"UNICEF is aware of reports of children removed from the country without due process or proper documents," UNICEF spokesperson Christopher de Bono told reporters. "The Haitian government has been informed of these reports and is investigating. It has also increased its presence and vigilance at exit points to prevent children being taken illegally."

Incidents of child trafficking are often reported after emergencies, said de Bono, who added that Illegal adoption, smuggling and abduction can take place as well.

Adviser of childhood protection of UNICEF, Jean Claude Legrand, said in Geneva that since January 12, 15 children have disappeared from the hospitals of Port au Prince, Haiti's capital.

However, de Bono said any specific numbers about children illegally removed from Haiti are only speculative.

"We don't believe speculation about numbers helps alleviate or improve the situation of children," he said. "We are simply not in a position to confirm numbers."

Twenty-nine organizations, including UNICEF, have taken a number of steps to clamp down on child abductions. Hospitals have been visited to ensure that hospital staff are aware of the need to check the credentials of anyone who removes a child.

Also, when unaccompanied children are found they are sent to a center created to deal with such cases. Messages are being broadcast on local radio stations advising Haitians about the protection of children and the reunification of families, added de Bono.

"UNICEF remains very concerned about the situation of children in Haiti, and particularly of children who have become separated from their parents or caregivers," he said. "What Haitian children need right now is urgent assistance where they are -- in Haiti."

(Xinhua News Agency January 23, 2010)

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