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UNICEF Urges Caution on Haitian Adoptions

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The swift adoptions of large numbers of Haitian children seen since the deadly January 12 earthquake are not appropriate for fixing the nation's long-term problems, a UNICEF official told Xinhua on Wednesday.

"Adoption is an option but is not the only option," said Roshan Khadivi, a press official of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), at an improvised camp near the Toussaint L'Ouverture Airport in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince.

The organization has set up three temporary reception centers in Port-au-Prince with a total capacity to accomodate 900 children. Khadivi said that currently, a total of 275 children are sheltered in the centers, the first of which opened the day after the quake.

She said that UNICEF has already identified seven more sites in the city to build new shelters, the first one of which will be ready to take homeless children on Monday.

She said that UNICEF is focusing on reuniting the children with family members as a first option, and will spend several months actively seeking each child's parents before considering their adoption.

"We are taking photos and filling in forms to get the children's full details on file," Khadivi said. "We started the database just yesterday but it is a process that could take several months," she warned.

UNICEF has been using experience in handling similar situations in Darfur, a conflict zone in the African nation Sudan, where a large number of children were separated from their parents, she said.

Khadivi said adoptions appearing in media reports actually took place in the immediate aftermath of the quake, which the government said had killed at least 170,000.

Haitian President Rene Preval had said that all adoptions thereafter must be approved personally by him.

"Experience has shown us that there is at least one family member left usually," she said. "UNICEF does not believe in institutionalization in orphanages. Children need to be connected with their communities."

UNICEF has installed well-trained personnel at airports and border posts to ensure that every child leaving the country has proper paperwork.

Prior to the quake, the government had estimated that 2,000 children were trafficked out of Haiti every year, based on reports from police and non-governmental organizations.

UNICEF is also actively helping the Haitian government to rebuild its education system as many teachers were killed in the quake. The building of its education ministry was also toppled by the temblor.

"We are now hoping that schools in non-affected areas will open on Monday," Khadivi said. "The next goal is to start putting up temporary schools -- a tent with room for two or three classes in two shifts a day," she said.

Parents in the areas where most schools are destroyed have deep fears of allowing their children to return to concrete buildings, she said. Some 90 percent of schools were wrecked in the capital, while 60 percent were destroyed in the southwest.

"The goal is to create normalcy for children as soon as possible," she said. "Not just opening schools. We need to have psychological support for the trauma," Khadivi added. The task is specially urgent for Haiti because around 50 percent of its population is under 18.

(Xinhua News Agency January 28, 2010)