The ten American Baptists who tried to take 33 Haitian children across the border to the Dominican Republic were charged Thursday with abduction and criminal association.
Haitian Deputy Prosecutor Jean Ferge Joseph announced the charges and said that the case was being sent to an investigative judge. The charges carry prison terms of up to 15 years. After the announcement, the U.S. missionaries were led back to their prison cells.
Last Friday, the ten-member team, made up mostly of members from an Idaho Baptist church, was arrested while trying to take a bus full of Haitian children across the border. The leader of the Baptist team, Laura Silsby, 40, said the group was bringing the children to a 45-room hotel in the Dominican Republic, where they would stay until a permanent orphanage could be constructed.
Silsby said plans for building an orphanage in the Dominican Republic for Haitian children were in place before the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the Caribbean island on Jan. 12. The hundreds of thousands dead and millions homeless prompted the group to move quicker on their plan to establish an orphanage, she said.
But Haitian officials say the team lacked the proper documents to transport the children out of the country. With thousands of Haitian children having lost their parents and many wandering the streets, the government has become stricter with the movement of children across its borders over fears of child trafficking. As a measure to prevent child trafficking, Prime Minister Max Bellerive has to personally authorize a child leaving the country.
In interviews with parents of the children, some said they were told the children would be taken to a place in the Dominican Republic where they would be educated and then be able to return to Haiti to help their families.
But the American team on its Web site for the orphanage said the children would be eligible for adoption, raising concern whether the Haitian parents were given the correct information.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday the United States does not seek to interfere in the case. However, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier that Washington was in talks with the Haitian government about the missionary case.