Haitian police were holding 10 US citizens late Saturday on suspicion they tried to slip out of the country with 31 Haitian children in a trafficking scheme, a government minister said.
Haitian Social Affairs Minister Yves Christallin said the police arrested five men and five women with US passports, and two Haitians, as they tried to cross into the Dominican Republic with the children Friday night.
He said two pastors were also involved, one in Haiti and one in Atlanta, Georgia.
"This is an abduction, not an adoption," said Christallin.
Christallin said the US citizens did not have the proper documents to take the children out of Haiti, nor letters of authorization from their parents.
The children were aged two months to 12 years and had come from different places, he said.
"What is important for us in Haiti is that a child needs to have an authorization from this ministry to leave the country," he said.
US embassy officials were not immediately available to comment on the case.
Haitian officials have voiced fears that child traffickers will take advantage of the chaos after Haiti's massive January 12 quake to slip out of the country with children in illegal adoption schemes.
There is also concern that legitimate adoption agencies may rush to take earthquake orphans out of the country before proper checks have been conducted to confirm their parents perished.
Laura Sillsby from the Idaho group told Reuters from a jail cell at Haiti's Judicial Police headquarters, "We had permission from the Dominican Republic government to bring the children to an orphanage that we have there."
"We have a Baptist minister here (in Port-au-Prince) whose orphanage totally collapsed and he asked us to take the children to the orphanage in the Dominican Republic," Sillsby added.
"I was going to come back here to do the paperwork," Sillsby said. "They accuse us of children trafficking. This is something I would never do. We were not trying to do something wrong."
Christallin said it was "too bad that it was Americans who have been implicated in this affair, because they are helping us (with earthquake relief), as many countries are."
As a result, the Haitian government halted many types of adoptions earlier this month.
There are no reliable estimates of the number of parentless and lost children at risk in Haiti's quake-shattered capital.
Related news reports:Last Mod: 31 Ocak 2010, 16:58