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Child Slavery in Haiti - Child Slavery in Haiti

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Its officials accused the Idaho group of taking "children under false pretenses. The allegations have to be thoroughly investigated but the Haitian police consider this incident as organized child trafficking."

Laura Silsby heads the groups as CEO of a Boise-based online shopping web site called Last November, it filed papers with Idaho authorities to establish the New Life Children's Refuge, ostensibly as an NGO. As part of their "Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission," they plan a Dominican Republic orphanage for up to 200 children, earmarked for US adoptions, conversion to Evangelical Christianity, and apparent extremist indoctrination, given Silsby's admission that Sarah Palin and the Manhattan Initiative are two of her favorites, the latter a right-wing Evangelical group opposed to abortion and gay marriage.

Although one scheme was stopped, UNICEF says, pre and post-quake, documented evidence shows many Haitian child abductions, including from hospitals, orphanages, and the street where so many are vulnerable.

The agency explained that pre-quake, Haiti had about 380,000 orphaned children. The number now is incalculable, but the message is clear. Many are on their own own to find food, shelter and medical care, making them vulnerable to traffickers for profit and exploitation.

In 2000, the UN adopted the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, then in 2003, its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. Under its provisions, trafficking is illegal, defined as:

"Trafficking in persons (by) the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation."

Exploitation is defined, "at a minimum," to include "prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs."

Anyone under 18 is considered a child, and State Parties are called on to adopt laws or other measures "to establish criminal offences" under the Convention. Haiti hasn't done so, leaving its children vulnerable to trafficking and other abuses.

Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) Report on Child Trafficking in Haiti

In November 2009, PADF published a report titled, "Lost Childhoods in Haiti: Quantifying Child Trafficking, Restaveks & Victims of Violence." It's a disturbing picture of "extremely poor children who are sent to other homes to work as unpaid domestic servants," and end up being beaten, sexually assaulted, and exploited by host families. Later, in their teens, "they are commonly tossed to the streets to fend for themselves and become victims of other types of abuses" because Haitian labor laws require employers to pay domestic workers over aged 15.

PADF studied the problem through "the largest field survey on human rights violations, with an emphasis on child trafficking, abuse and violence." It conducted 1,458 personal interviews in troubled urban neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien, Gonaives, Saint-Marc and Petit-Goave and learned the following:

-- children are moving from impoverished households to less poor ones;

-- in urban areas, an estimated 225,000 children are Restaveks, two-thirds of them girls;

-- the impoverished Cite Soleil Port-au-Prince neighborhood had the highest percentage of Restavek children - 44%;

-- families in the southern peninsula communities of Les Cayes, Jacmel, Jeremie and Leogane supply the most Restaveks to Port-au-Prince;

-- some children sent to host families for education aren't classified as Restaveks, but perform similar duties;

-- more than 7% of urban households report incidents of rape, murder, kidnapping, or gang involvement, but the true number is likely higher as many incidents go unreported; and

--Port-au-Prince households had over double the amount in other cities (16%).

Over 30% of surveyed households have Restavek children, affecting 16% of all children and 22% of them treated that way. Overall, study findings show Restaveks aren't solely a rural phenomenon given the high proportion of urban households with them.

The majority of urban ones were born in rural Haiti, but urban households comprise the largest recruitment destination. All regions supply them, the most important being southern peninsula rural areas. In addition, many households take in children as school borders, the vast majority treated like Restaveks without the label, and some families with them also send their own children to live with host families in return for services performed.

Kinship is a prime and more socially acceptable recruiting source. However, family ties may camouflage poor treatment when children are away during the school year. They traditionally do household chores at home, but as Restaveks far more in an abusive environment.

PADF cited other issues, including:

-- growing numbers of street children forced to beg to survive;

-- young women (including underage adolescents) recruited for prostitution;

-- Restavek cross-border trafficking to the Dominican Republic, including for sex;

-- kidnappings to sell children and women into bondage; and

-- violence in urban neighborhoods, including organized murder, rape, other physical assaults, and kidnappings committed by the Haitian National Police, UN MINUSTAH peacekeepers, other armed "authorities," and politically partisan gangs.

PADF Summary of Key Findings

An "astonishing high percentage" of surveyed children live with host families - 32% and 30% of surveyed households had Restaveks present. Other findings included:

-- 16% of all surveyed children were placed as Restaveks, and 22% were treated that way, including 44% in Cite Soleil;

-- two-thirds of Restaveks are girls;

-- poverty is the root cause of Restavek placements;

-- a significant minority of Restavek households placed their own children with host families; yet kinship ties don't shield them from abusive treatment, even for those sent only for the school year;

-- "the magnitude of the intra-urban movement of children within....metropolitan area(s) is (a) significant new development;"

-- most urban Restaveks were born in rural areas, but in Port-au-Prince, other households are the largest single source; thus Restavek recruitment no longer can be viewed solely as a rural to urban phenomenon;

-- other victimization forms include rape, murder, kidnapping, and cross-border trafficking; and

-- most abused victims don't seek help from authorities because little is available, including in court.

Public Policy and Haitian Law

Haitian law doesn't specifically prohibit trafficking internally or cross-border, so seeking judicial redress is futile, and the police child protection unit doesn't pursue these cases because statutory restrictions don't exist.

Nonetheless, in March 2009, the Haitian parliament ratified (but doesn't enforce) the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocols on human trafficking and smuggling. The parliament is also considering a human trafficking law, but real social change was never before achieved, except under Aristide. Haitians have been oppressed for over 500 years. The current government has done nothing to change things, and now can't under occupation.

A Final Comment

Given their overwhelming hardships, the last thing Haitians needed was the January 12 quake (the most destructive in the region in 170 years), affecting Port-au-Prince, surrounding areas, and other parts of the country, devastating the capital, killing many thousands, injuring many more, and disrupting the lives of three million or more people, adding to their crushing burden.

Many tens of thousands lost everything left stranded on their own, given the lack of essential aid most still aren't getting. Everything is in shambles. Rubble is everywhere. The National Cathedral, Palace of Justice, and Supreme Court collapsed. So did hotels, other municipal buildings, business structures, schools and hospitals.

People still wander the streets dazed, searching for loved ones. The National Palace was heavily damaged, now under US control as a command center. So was UN headquarters, and many of its employees remain missing. In the wealthy Petionville neighborhood, a hospital, ministry building and private homes collapsed. So did other buildings across the capital and in rural communities like Leogane. Jacmel in the southeast also sustained major damage.

The Parliament collapsed. So did public buildings and hospitals, and those functioning are packed with victims or others queued outside waiting for treatment. The World Food Program (WFP) reached only 100,000 people as of January 31. On February 2, targeted vaccinations will begin that, according to the world's foremost authority, Dr. Viera Scheibner, will exacerbate, not lessen the communicable disease problem as vaccines often cause the diseases they're designed to prevent.

Enough food, clean drinking water and medical care remain urgent problems, the US occupation force doing nothing to help and actually obstructing aid deliveries by restricting incoming humanitarian flights and letting supplies stack up undelivered at the airport it controls. As a result, vital shipments are reaching a fraction of the millions who need them.

In its latest February 1 report, OCHA said hundreds of thousands of displaced Haitians need shelter provisions.  Poor sanitation greatly increases the risk of communicable diseases and remains a huge challenge, and virtually all essential needs are in short supply.

It added:

"Preliminary results from Port-au-Prince found that 93 percent of people surveyed said there was no adequate lighting; 93 percent said there were no latrines for women and men; 41 percent said the level of security was acceptable and 29 percent said it was very poor. The preliminary findings confirm that food, water, sanitation, health and shelter are the areas with the most urgent needs."

Before the tragedy, most Haitians had no running water, electricity, sanitation, or other public services leaving them on their own, virtually out of luck, and now out of it entirely with relief expected only for the privileged, not them beyond lip service and bare essentials, way short of what's needed.

It's an old story for some of the most abused, exploited, and neglected people anywhere, mostly by their powerful northern neighbor allied with Haitian economic elites; names like Acra, Apaid, Baussan, Biglo, Boulos, Brandt, Coles, Kouri, Loukas, Madsen, Mevs, Nadal,  Sada, Vital, Vorbes, and other influential bourgeoisie interests exploiting their own people for profit.

Hundreds of thousands around the country are still coping with the damage that summer 2008 storms caused leaving them without food, clean water, other essentials, and around 70,000 homes destroyed. Gonaives, Haiti's third largest city became uninhabitable. Most of Haiti's livestock and food crops were destroyed as well as farm tools and seeds for replanting. Irrigation systems were demolished, and buildings throughout the country collapsed or were damaged, many severely. Now this, affecting Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas with the overall toll yet to be assessed.

For poor Haitians, it's already known. Decimated by unimaginable hardships and depravation, they're on their own and out of luck because of the callous disregard for their lives and well-being - and their country now occupied for the duration.

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