Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will travel to Haiti on Monday, April 5, 2010, as part of a Congressional Delegation with Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) to assess the impact of the earthquake that devastated the country earlier this year has had on child welfare. Senator Gillibrand is working with Senate colleagues on new legislation that would help bolster Haiti’s child welfare system. During her trip she will meet with Haitian government officials and NGO leaders to discuss ways in which Haiti’s children can be assisted and tour an orphanage in Port-Au-Prince.
“As a mother of two young children, I am heartbroken by the thought that so many young children in Haiti are suffering,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This is an opportunity for me to visit orphanages and learn firsthand how the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children are faring. My goal after this trip is to craft legislation that helps to significantly improve life for Haiti’s children.”
On Monday, Senator Gillibrand will meet with President René Préval, First Lady Elisabeth Delatour Préval and other governmental officials to discuss the challenges Haiti is facing. Senator Gillibrand will also tour the Rose Mina Orphanage to see firsthand how the earthquake has impacted Haiti’s youth.
Senator Gillibrand plans to work with Haitian leaders as they work to improve conditions in Haiti’s orphanages, with the ultimate goal of uniting families. In the Senate, she plans to work with her colleagues to improve the adoption process to ensure that children eligible for adoption may be adopted by qualified guardians.
Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, was devastated by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on January 12. The powerful earthquake destroyed schools, hospitals, and much of Port-Au-Prince’s infrastructure, leading to the loss of over 230,000 lives and displacing over 1.3 million people from their homes. Many of those affected are young children who have been separated from their families.
Haiti has a very young population. Prior to the earthquake it was estimated that 65 percent of the population was under the age of 25, and 40 percent was under the age of 14. It was also estimated that as many as 380,000 children were living in orphanages. With the earthquake’s recent devastation, the number of orphans in Port-Au-Prince has risen drastically.
Prior to the Earthquake, many children were sent to unregulated orphanages, not because they did not have parents, but because their families were too poor to give them shelter, food and education. Thus “orphanages” housed both true orphans and children with families. Only a small number of orphanages were regulated by IBESR, Haiti’s children’s welfare agency, however, due to the devastation caused by the earthquake, the already slow adoption process has been virtually stopped.