The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Friday children have gone missing from hospitals in Haiti following the devastating earthquake in the country, raising fears they are being trafficked for adoption abroad.
"We have documented around 15 cases of children disappearing from hospitals and not with their own family at the time," said UNICEF adviser Jean Luc Legrand.
"UNICEF has been working in Haiti for many years and we knew the problem with the trade of children in Haiti that existed already beforehand,” he said. "Unfortunately, many of these trade networks have links with the international adoption market."
The UN agency said it has warned countries around the world during the past week not to step up adoptions from Haiti in the immediate wake of the quake, ABC News reported.
Despite the warning, many fast-tracking adoption procedures are already under way in Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the United States.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said child enslavement and trafficking in Haiti was "an existing problem and could easily emerge as a serious issue over the coming weeks and months."
The UN mission in Haiti has stepped up surveillance of roads, UNICEF officials said.
"We have seen over the past years many children being taken out of the country without any legal procedure," Legrand said. "This is going on. This is happening now. We are starting to have the first evidence of that, this is unquestionable."
He was unable to give details about 15 children missing from hospitals or their conditions.