Judge Orders Release of One Haiti Volunteer

A Haitian judge signed an order for release of one of two American volunteers in jail on child kidnapping charges. But an administrative problem has delayed her release.

Charisa Coulter will be allowed to return to the United States as soon as court administrators can find an official stamp to validate the judge's order.

"I already signed the release order," said Judge Bernard Sainvil, according to Reuters. "All that is left now is to seal it but they cannot find the official stamp."

The leader of the group of Christian volunteers, Laura Silsby, however, will remain in jail for further questioning.

Eight of the ten American volunteers, most of whom were from two Idaho Baptist churches, were released last month. Only Coulter and Silsby remained imprisoned until now.

The team of Americans attempted to take 33 Haitian children to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic in late January but was arrested by Haitian authorities in the process. Officials said the Americans did not have the proper paperwork to take children out of the country.

They were subsequently charged with child kidnapping and criminal association.

Jim Allen, one of the freed volunteers, said after he returned to the United States that the team had permission from the Dominican Republic to take the children into the country. But they did not have the paperwork from Haitian authorities. The team members were arrested when they went back to the capital, Port-au-Prince, to obtain the permission.

In another complication, though the volunteers believed the children were all orphans, it was discovered that almost all the children had at least one living parent. The Haitian parents testified in court that they willingly gave their children to the Americans because they believed the volunteers would feed and educate them.

Throughout the legal ordeal, the American volunteers said they went to Haiti with the intention to help the people after a massive earthquake struck the country and killed as many as 300,000 people and left more than 1 million people displaced. Many Haitian children were left as orphans and homeless as a result.

Yet Haitian authorities fear that amid the confusion the country's children are more vulnerable to human trafficking. Officials ordered that any Haitian children taken out of the country must have permission from the government.

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