The United Nations mission in Haiti told Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a memo that it had seen a rise in child trafficking in Haiti since last year’s devastating earthquake.
The memo, which was sent from the mission known by its acronym MINUSTAH and obtained by the Spanish news agency EFE, said that 2,509 children were stopped without proper documentation in Port au Prince’s airport and along the border with the Dominican Republic in 2010. Of those, Haitian authorities said that 459 were victims of traffickers.
The UN mission says it has seen a “strong increase” in the number of child trafficking cases, especially to neighboring countries such as the Dominican Republic, where they are sold into slavery and prostitution. It does not give figures, however, on exactly how much this activity has grown.
Poverty, endemic corruption, and lawlessness are the norm in what is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. The void of authority has made Haiti a key transit point for drugs going to the United States, and, to a lesser extent, Europe, as well as a haven for myriad other criminal activities including human smuggling, human trafficking, and illegal adoptions.
Things have gotten worse since the earthquake in January 2010, which left entire cities in rubble, the country’s little infrastructure in tatters, and over 230,000 dead.
What was already a difficult place to live has also become a nearly impossible place to police. To cite one example, nearly 6,000 prisoners escaped from a maximum security prison following the quake, only eight percent of whom have been recaptured, according to the MINUSTAH memo.
The UN mission adds that it’s worried about security forces’ connections to organized crime and noted that the murder rate “did not stop going up” in 2009 to 2010, according to EFE’s account, without specifying by how much or where homicides were increasing.
Amidst the chaos are thousands of children. The United States Department of State estimates that close to half a million were displaced by the quake, adding to a culture of people inured to the death and destruction around them.
The State Department qualifies Haiti as a “special case” in matters of human trafficking, the highest alarm bell it can sound. And in its 2010 report on human trafficking, it says most of those trafficked are “restaveks,” a term used for domestic child servants who form part of an extended family.
“Restaveks are treated differently from other non-biological children living in households,” the State Department says. “In addition to involuntary servitude, restaveks are particularly vulnerable to beatings, sexual assaults and other abuses by family members in the homes in which they are residing.”
Haiti has created a special Brigade for the Protection of Minors, but this has done little to curb trafficking since the brigade does not pursue forced labor or forced prostitution cases because there is no existing law against these activities, the State Department adds. It noted an increase in the number of restaveks found in shelters since the quake.
The UN’s report may indicate that other children are also being bought and sold in large numbers on the black market, as desperate, entrepreneurial parents seek to lower their burden. Much of this market, it appears, is in the Dominican Republic, which shares the Hispaniola Island with Haiti.
A key crossing point, according to the UN, is Belladere, which is close to the border with the Dominican Republic. The UN is sponsoring education and outreach programs in the town, where Gallianne Palayret, a child protection specialist, produced the video below.
There, Haitian authorities turned back 1,437 children without proper identification or paperwork between May and December 2010, according to an informative blog by Palayret. (Read blog here.)
The Dominican Republic has a similarly appalling record on human trafficking. The State Department qualifies it as a “Tier 3” nation, the highest alarm bell it can sound for a country that is not a “Special Case” like Haiti.
Haitians are trafficked to work on Dominican sugar plantations, in brothels and other forced servitude, the State Department says.