The best way to help children in Haiti

January 20, 2010

Homeless. Injured. Traumatized. It is horrible to imagine what some of Haiti's children are facing right now.

Children are the most vulnerable in the wake of a disaster, especially one as destructive as last week's earthquake in Haiti. Without any warning, their lives were turned upside down. They may have seen their homes demolished or their relatives killed. Many were separated from their families in the unfolding chaos. Some were gravely injured. They are now at increased risk of disease and malnutrition, as well as exploitation, abuse, and trafficking.

The first instinct of those watching the plight of Haiti's children on TV is to help in any way possible"perhaps even take in a child who seems alone in the world. This is a beautiful and heartfelt response, but it is premature. What these children need more than anything right now is lifesaving clean water, food, medicine, shelter, and protection. And they need to get that support in a place where they can be reunited with family who may be desperately looking for them.

Susan Bissell, UNICEF's Chief of Child Protection, shared this with us for Fieldnotes.

Homeless. Injured. Traumatized. It is horrible to imagine what some of Haiti's children are facing right now.

AD-photo---RTR28TEG_color.jpg
©REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
An injured child receives medical treatment after the Haiti earthquake. Port-au-Prince.

Children are the most vulnerable in the wake of a disaster, especially one as destructive as last week's earthquake in Haiti. Without any warning, their lives were turned upside down. They may have seen their homes demolished or their relatives killed. Many were separated from their families in the unfolding chaos. Some were gravely injured. They are now at increased risk of disease and malnutrition, as well as exploitation, abuse, and trafficking.

The first instinct of those watching the plight of Haiti's children on TV is to help in any way possible"perhaps even take in a child who seems alone in the world. This is a beautiful and heartfelt response, but it is premature. What these children need more than anything right now is lifesaving clean water, food, medicine, shelter, and protection. And they need to get that support in a place where they can be reunited with family who may be desperately looking for them.

In fact, UNICEF and its partners in Haiti are providing this critical aid and are creating safe spaces for children who have been separated from their families. We are in the process of registering all unaccompanied children. Every effort will then be made to reunite them with their relatives. Only if it becomes clear that that is impossible should other permanent options like adoption, including inter-country adoption, be considered.

Protection-pic1A--UNI78042.jpg
© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0025/Roger LeMoyne
UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Cecilie Modvar speaks with children who are living in a makeshift camp in Canapà Vert Plaza in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Ms. Modvar is seeking to identify unaccompanied or traumatized children who have lost or been separated from their families due to the earthquake. Port-au-Prince.

It is an entirely different situation for children who were orphans prior to the earthquake, and whose screening for adoption had already been completed. In this case, it is clearly beneficial to the child to expedite the adoption process and get them into their new homes.

All of us at UNICEF have been deeply moved by the outpouring of concern and compassion for Haiti's children. Around the world, we are united by the belief that no child should ever have to suffer"and right now Haiti's children are, indeed, suffering. But we must make sure that whatever we do to mitigate that suffering is in the best interest of the children.

Thank you for your concern and generosity. With your help, UNICEF will be there for the children of Haiti in the weeks and months to come.