Haiti aftermath: Child Trafficking and Abduction

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As a consequence of the chaos that usually follows emergencies, thousands of children since Haiti’s earthquake of the January 12 were at risk of falling prey to child traffickers. The scale of the problem is potentially enormous as Haiti is awash with children, with 45 per cent of its population younger than 15. One UN official estimated that between 40,000 and 60,000 children were killed, orphaned or separated from their families by the earthquake, which struck while most were still in school, and anecdotal evidence suggests many have been left to fend for themselves.

Of course it was no surprise when ten Americans from an Idaho church group were formally charged last month by Haitian authorities for kidnapping 33 Haitian children. They said that they were attempting to bring 33 Haitian children to an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic when they were arrested at a border crossing. CNN reported that the leader of the group, Laura Silsby, said that the group's aims were entirely ‘altruistic’ and that they were only seeking to seek help for the children in the Dominican Republic. Sadly, some of the children were not orphans and were asking about their parents, while aid agencies reported that at least 15 children vanished from hospitals two weeks after the crises and up to 2,000 children found wandering the streets in one area of Port-au-Prince alone.

Children's charity Plan International is taking the lead in the fight to protect orphans and other vulnerable children at risk of trafficking after the Haiti quake. Plan was appointed to lead an anti-trafficking taskforce by a commission of aid agencies this week. The mission is to find safe shelter for homeless children, issuing warnings about traffickers and how to prevent and report cases. Youth leaders have been trained by Plan International staff to help promote child rights in camps and distribute aid including food, water and tents. 200 of Haitian children will be taken to a safe care centre outside the capital, funded by the charity. “Plan is keen on creating safe places for children in Haiti in addition to making sure that all children have their right personal documentation and identification” Nigel Chapman, CEO of Plan International told What Women Want. The United Nations also has begun erecting special tent camps for thousands of Haitian girls and boys separated from their parents and at risk of falling prey to child-traffickers which will give time for parents and children to be reunited, before they are automatically shipped out of the country. “Emergency visas and passports could help push through adoptions that were stalled after the quake, and would open up beds for children who lost their parents in the disaster” said Dixie Bickel, director of God's Littlest Angels orphanage just outside Port-au-Prince.

Save the Children, World Vision and the British Red Cross have called for an immediate halt to adoptions of Haitian children not approved before the earthquake, warning that child traffickers could exploit the lack of regulation. Workers from aid groups and other non-governmental and religious organizations have poured into Haiti in the aftermath Bags of rice, beans and cooking oil have reached hundreds of thousands of Haitians but the deliveries have been irregular and many Haitians complain they are still in dire need.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told The New York Times that child enslavement and trafficking was "an existing problem and could easily emerge as a serious issue over the coming weeks and months". A Unicef adviser, Jean Luc Legrand, told the media that he knew of at least 15 cases of children disappearing from hospitals.

It appears that the quake which is believed to have killed about 170,000 people has been a great benefit for traffickers who reportedly earn up to 400 Haitian dollars (US$80) for each child that enters the country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. A report that was researched between November 2001 and February 2002, found that Dominican border officials were letting human traffickers cross from Haiti in exchange for payments of between 20 and 50 Dominican pesos (US$1 to US$2.50) per child. Even before the earthquake, Haitian children were regularly sent to the Dominican Republic to work in sex tourism, or recruited by armed gangs. There are 200 orphanages in Port-au-Prince alone, but are poorly regulated and unfortunately, some are mere fronts for international child traffickers.

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