CALLEBAS, Haiti — Desperate parents in this struggling village perched above Haiti's earthquake-flattened capital said they gave their children away willingly, trusting the American missionaries who promised to take them to a better life.
The stories the villagers told on Wednesday contradict claims by the Baptist group's leader that the children came from orphanages or were handed over by distant relatives. But they also attest to the misery of a nation that was the hemisphere's poorest even before the Jan. 12 earthquake struck.
The 10 Baptists, one from Kansas and the others from Idaho, were arrested last week trying to take 33 Haitian children across the border into the Dominican Republic without the required documents, according to Haitian authorities, who have accused them of child trafficking.
The Americans are to appear today before a prosecutor who will decide whether to file charges or release them, Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said.
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Prime Minister Max Bellerive has said he recognizes the Americans may simply be well-meaning do-gooders who believed their charitable Christian intent justified trying to remove the children from quake-crippled Haiti.
Standing amid piles of debris that used to be their homes and the makeshift shelters of tin and plastic sheeting that have replaced them, the people of Callebas told how they came to surrender their children.
It all began last week when a local orphanage worker, fluent in English and acting on behalf of the Baptists, convened nearly the entire village of 500 people on a dirt soccer field to present the Americans' offer.
Isaac Adrien, 20, told his neighbors the missionaries would educate their children in the neighboring Dominican Republic, the villagers said, adding that they were also assured they would be free to visit their children there.
Many parents jumped at the offer.
"It's only because the bus was full that more children didn't go," said Melanie Augustin, a 58-year-old who gave her 10-year-old daughter, Jovin, to the Americans.