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International groups seek aid, homes for thousands of orphans in Haiti quake

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Jean Peterson Estime was outside playing soccer when his home pancaked in last week's earthquake and killed his parents and five sisters.

Now he sleeps with thousands in a Port-au-Prince park and forages in rubble for food and goods he can sell to survive.

"I'm trying to get a little job so I can take care of myself," he says, attempting to look brave even as he shuffles his dirty feet in too-big sandals.

What the 13-year-old really wants is someone to take him in.

Tens of thousands of children have been orphaned by the magnitude 7.0 quake, aid groups say — so many that officials won't venture a number. With buildings destroyed and growing chaos in the capital, they say many children are like Jean — living alone on the streets.

Even before Tuesday's deadly earthquake, Haiti, one of the world's poorest countries, was awash in orphans, with 380,000 children living in orphanages or group homes, the United Nations Children's Fund reported on its Web site.

International advocacy groups are trying to help, either by speeding up adoptions that were already in progress, or by sending in relief personnel to evacuate thousands of orphans to the United States and other countries.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday announced a humanitarian parole policy that allows orphaned Haitian children into the United States temporarily on a case-by-case basis, so they can receive the care they need. Spokesman Sean Smith said orphans who have ties to the United States, such as a family member already living here, are among those who can get special permission to remain in the United States.

Notwithstanding the U.S. policy, the Catholic Church in Miami is working on a proposal that would allow thousands of orphaned children to come permanently to America. A similar effort launched in 1960, known as Operation Pedro Pan, brought about 14,000 unaccompanied children from Cuba to the United States.

Under the new plan, dubbed "Pierre Pan," Haitian orphans would first be placed in group homes and then paired with foster parents, said Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami.

International groups seek aid, homes for thousands of orphans in Haiti quake 01/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 11:02pm]
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