CHILDREN'S charities have voiced concern for the safety of thousands of orphans after Western nations began speeding up adoption procedures for the young survivors of Haiti's earthquake.
Countries, including France and Spain, have streamlined the process in the hope of getting young people to safety as soon as possible.
But the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and other welfare groups have warned that orphans risk being separated from their families and that the well-meaning moves by Westerners could even be considered to be abuse.
The adoption row came as the UN said Haitian children had also been abducted from hospitals by people traffickers taking advantage of the chaos to trade 'orphans' on the international adoption market.
Luc Legrand, an adviser to Unicef in Geneva, said there was evidence of children being stolen amid the death, upheaval and destruction in Haiti.
He said the organisation had received reports of unauthorised people taking children to the neighbouring Dominican Republic and of planes illegally loading children before they left the airport.
Mr Legrand added: "This is happening and we are starting to have the first evidence of that. It is unquestionable."
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said child trafficking in Haiti was "an existing problem and could easily emerge as a serious issue over the coming weeks and months".
It comes as some of the West's biggest and richest nations -- the US, Germany, France, Spain, Canada, Belgium and Holland -- are rushing through adoption applications in order to airlift children out of the death and destruction in Haiti.
However, Save The Children, World Vision and the British Red Cross have called for a moratorium on new adoptions until sustained efforts have been made to trace and reunite children with their families.
Taking children out of the country would permanently separate thousands of children from their families and thereby compound their suffering, said Jasmine Whitbread, Save The Children's chief executive.
Mayi Garneadia-Pierre, a Unicef child-protection volunteer at an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, from where children have been sent to France for adoption, is also concerned about their future.
She said: "It's not abuse in the sense of mistreatment, but it's abusive in the sense of making a permanent break."
The issue is expected to divide a meeting of European Union foreign ministers on Monday after Spain proposed "speeding up procedures for adoption cases" across Europe.
Roelie Post, a spokesman for Against Child Trafficking, a Brussels-based group, said: "If the EU supports this, it will lend its power and credibility to an adoption industry driven by greed and money."
But Dixie Bickel, the director of God's Littlest Angels, an adoption agency in Haiti, is hopeful that fast-track adoptions for the 50,000 Haitians orphaned before the earthquake could free up care facilities for new orphans.
She said: "We are trying to get those children to adoptive families, so they can be safe. That will also free up beds for orphans created by earthquake."
Letje Vermunt, a spokesman for the Netherlands Adoption Foundation, said the Dutch decision this week to speed up 109 existing and new adoptions was made because of the "very high risk of death, considering the situation in Haiti now".
Nine of the children who arrived in the Netherlands were sent to foster homes because the rushed airlift meant that children had not yet been matched to parents.
More than 30 orphans have also been flown to France after losing their parents or being abandoned.
While France has speeded up existing adoption applications, it has been cautious. Bernard Kouchner, the country's foreign minister, said: "We must not be accused of kidnapping." (© Daily Telegraph, London)