PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The new lawyer for 10 American Baptists charged with child kidnapping said Monday he believes they had paperwork to take 33 children out of the country after Haiti’s devastating earthquake.
The group’s members are being questioned this week over allegations they tried to take the children to the neighboring Dominican Republic without proper documents. The Americans, most of them from Idaho, said they were on a humanitarian mission to rescue orphans after Haiti’s catastrophic Jan. 12 quake.
The Americans were arrested Feb. 1 at Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic.
At least 20 of the 33 children had living parents. Some of those parents said they gave the kids to the group because the missionaries promised to educate them at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic and said they would allow parents to visit.
“Many of the parents who had the opportunity to speak out declared, in good faith, to have given their children to the Americans,” attorney Aviol Fleurant said.
“I also believe, really believe— and I don’t want to break the gag order from the court — that the Americans have a document, from somebody, an authorization to take the children with them.”
It wasn’t immediately clear who could have given the authorization.
The Americans’ Dominican lawyer, Jorge Puello, said at a news conference that the Haitian court was going to drop all charges against his clients Wednesday. Puello would not say where that information came from. Last week, he claimed nine of the 10 were about to be released.
Thousands of Haitian children leave the country illicitly each year, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund. They are forced into domestic or agricultural labor, used as sex slaves, or sold on the clandestine market for adoption.