Children in Chadian abduction scandal wait to go home amid search for parents
16 November 2007, ABECHE - The 103 children caught up in an abduction scandal in Chad wait at an orphanage, unable to return home despite most having been identified as the probe continues into the French charity accused of trying to spirit them to Europe.
16 November 2007
ABECHE - The 103 children caught up in an abduction scandal in Chad wait at an orphanage, unable to return home despite most having been identified as the probe continues into the French charity accused of trying to spirit them to Europe.
They spend their time playing games, and they cry far less than they did when they first arrived in late October, officials said.
The orphanage, run by a Franco-Swiss Protestant mission, usually houses only about 15 children in this city in the east of the African nation.
The youngest among the children is 14 months, the oldest nine. Many are under five.
"Sixty-five children have been identified and their identity verified," said Honore About, head of the team identifying the children and searching for their parents.
But even they cannot return home yet since it is up to the authorities in the capital N'Djamena, where the child abduction investigation has been unfolding, to determine when they can be released.
Six French workers from the Zoe's Ark charity, which attempted to fly the children out of Chad to France, remain in jail in Chad in connection with the case.
Originally 17 Europeans were arrested, but 11 have since been freed. They include three French journalists and four female Spanish flight attendants released when French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a lightning trip to Chad on November 4.
Zoe's Ark says the children were orphans from neighbouring Sudan's war-torn Darfur region who it planned to place in foster care with families in Europe.
But Chad says the group did not have permission to take the children out of the country, and aid agencies who have since cared for them said most of the youngsters are Chadian and have at least one living parent.
Identifying all the children is expected to take time, and Chadian officials are working with limited resources. Some children don't know their full names, said About.
The parents often do not have identity papers or birth certificates, said Hamad Daoud Chari, the local prosecutor. As for using DNA testing, "Chad doesn't have the means," the prosecutor said.
As a result, much depends on observation.
On the first day, About noticed a group of 13 children who stuck together, demonstrating a link between them. It was later determined they all came from the town of Tine on the border with Sudan.
Officials also rely on children's reactions when identifying parents.
"When someone says they are a father or mother of a child ... we bring them to the orphanage, we put them in a corner, and we bring in the children," the prosecutor said. "If a child goes to the person, that means a lot."
Besides the 65 children whose identities have been established, another 18 are known, but their parents still have not been identified.
Five children have been recognised by villagers who said they knew them, but who could not identify them more precisely.
About said those 88 children are Chadian, and a majority are from the Adre area on the border with Darfur.
As for the 15 others, Chari, the prosecutor, said: "Maybe they're Sudanese."
According to the United Nations, some 236,000 Darfur refugees have fled to Chad to escape the fighting in Sudan's western war-ravaged region, while 173,000 Chadians have been displaced.
Several complaints have been filed by Sudanese residents over the children, the prosecutor said. A Sudanese delegation also visited the orphanage recently to try to identify some of them.
"The return of the children to their parents will require still more time," said Chari. "The social investigation must first be finished. Investigators have to visit the villages."
One of the children, Abakar Mahamat Adam, who said he didn't know his age, was puzzled by the circumstances that brought him to the orphanage.
"White people brought us here," he said. "They said that they were going to bring us to school."
His father has come to Abeche, but the boy wants to return to his Chadian village near the border with Sudan.
"Here, things are good," he said. "There, it's better."
Subject: French news