Haiti was a young nation even before the earthquake, with children making up nearly half the population. Now thousands of them are severely injured, psychologically devastated and orphaned. The United Nations Children's Fund estimates as many as 1 million lost at least one parent in the quake or have been separated from their families.
The disaster has left them in acute peril. Children are less able to fend for themselves for food and water or protect themselves against abuse, assault or abduction. Relief crews are trying to adapt, setting up child-only sections of refugee camps. But thousands still wander the streets. Without question, these victims deserve special attention.
So it is easy to understand why someone, seeing such trauma, would immediately want to scoop up the suffering children and bring them to the safety of the United States. Early on there was talk of an airlift for thousands of children, but federal authorities took a more cautious approach.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is allowing orphaned Haitian children temporarily here on a case-by-case basis, so they can receive care. Children with ties to the United States, such as a family here, can get special permission to remain here. And children who were already in the process of being adopted by an American family are being allowed to enter.
Children's advocates say this cautious policy is a wise one. Tom DiFilipo, head of the Joint Council on International Children's Services, told the Miami Herald that a drastic relocation can further traumatize a child who has been through too much.
A study of the aftermath of the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami noted that it can take months or years for separated children and families to reconnect, so if adoption is necessary, it is often best to give first preference to relatives, or families in the same country.
The New York Times reports that child-welfare groups are compiling a registry of displaced children in hope of eventually reuniting them with family. That accounting of the displaced, along with refuge, stability and basic care, can't happen soon enough for Haiti's children. Once the crisis has subsided and more is known about each child's status, it will be possible to make responsible decisions about their future.