Still in custody: 9 French citizens "wearing T-shirts with the slogan 'Children Rescue'" and 7 Spanish plane crewmembers in flight suits. The 16 were seized Thursday as they were readying to fly from Abéché, near Chad's border with the Darfur region of Sudan, to an airport near Rheims, France. With them at the time of arrest were 103 children, all under 9 years old.
The French detainees are affiliated with l'Arche de Zoé (Zoe's Ark). That NGO, whose website's a call to alarm over Darfur, maintained that the children were the 1st of 1,000 young refugees whom it planned to take away from the conflict in Darfur so that they might live with families in Europe that'd "each paid about €1,400 for the right to care for the children," according to London's Times; the International Herald Tribune put the amount at "€2,400, or nearly $3,500, per child."
The Times called it a "fiasco"; that seems a mild way to describe the operation, attempted just days before peace talks on Darfur were about to begin. (The talks began yesterday with Sudan's declaration of a unilateral ceasefire.) Chad's President, Idriss Deby, called it "a kidnapping, pure and simple," and promised severe punishment. French Minister for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights Rama Yade (left) called the operation "illegal and irresponsible," stating that back in July all NGOs working in Darfur with whom she met agreed unanimously to condemn the operation. Laws on children and immigration were not followed; indeed, adoption's not even legal in Sudan and Chad. Not all the children may be from Darfur; some may be Chadians. And based on initial interviews with the children themselves, said Jacques Hintzy, President of UNICEF-France, not all in fact are orphans.
As international organizations and national governments registered denunciations, the children remained in limbo in Chad, receiving temporary care from UNICEF, the International Red Cross, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Rather than a peculiar event without ramification much beyond its facts, this was, according to a U.N. release, "not an isolated incident but one that was highly visible because of the size of the group of children." Problems have arisen across the globe, not only in African countries, but also in, for example, Cambodia and Guatemala. As might be expected, there's a treaty designed to avoid some of those problems. The Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption -- commonly called the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption (logo at right) -- was signed in 1993 and entered into force in 1995. Yet today less than 1/3 of the world's countries are states parties, and many of the states that have experienced problems are nonparties. The United States signed but hasn't ratified, though it passed legislation in 2000 aimed at implementing some of the treaty's provisions.
It'll require many more ratifications, and much more enforcement, before this international law has the desired effect.