Port-au-Prince: The 33 Haitian children at the centre of a US abduction row have finally been reunited with their families, but the fact that not one of them turned out to be an orphan raised fresh concern.
SOS Children`s Villages, the international aid group caring for the children since the drama erupted seven weeks ago, said on Wednesday it was only right for them to be handed back to their families.
"It has turned out that all of the 33 children have parents. SOS Children`s Villages is convinced that in most cases, the best place for a child to be cared for and protected is within the family," the group said in a statement.
Laura Silsby and nine fellow Baptists from Idaho were arrested on January 29 as they tried to take the children into the neighbouring Dominican Republic by bus without the necessary documentation.
The group denied wrongdoing, saying it was only trying to help orphans in the wake of Haiti`s devastating January 12 earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people and left more than a million homeless.
Some parents told the judge they willingly handed over the children because they could no longer care for them following the quake that destroyed much of the Haitian capital.
Nine of the accused have since been released and returned to the United States, but Silsby, the leader of the New Life Children`s Refuge group, remains in a Port-au-Prince jail facing child trafficking charges.
SOS Children`s Villages spokeswoman Line Wolf Nielsen said that although it was in many cases a tearful reunion, or departure, many parents had actually been visiting for weeks.
"It wasn`t as if you had parents and children running toward each other," she said. "The children were dressed in their finest clothes and playing with the SOS `mother` they had been living with."
"It was a happy event but a few tears were shared. Quite a few kids have made many friends here and they were sad to say goodbye."
The smallest of the children was only a few months old and will have spent almost half her life in the care of a "mother" assigned to her by the SOS Villages charity, which was founded in 1949 in Austria.
"We will continue to follow these children on home visits and make sure things are fine and well," said Wolf Nielsen.
The reunions followed weeks of painstaking registration work by Haitian government officials who had to make sure all the parents were bona fide.
Several of the 22 families that claimed the children -- many were siblings -- left it until the last minute, Wolf Nielsen said, explaining it was difficult for some to get there while others may have feared prosecution.