Children, the most vulnerable members of Haiti’s population, are suffering terribly as a result of the disastrous earthquake, many losing parents, homes and health. As if that was not bad enough, they are now more likely than ever to be captured by traffickers who buy and sell children for sex and cheap labour, says an expert on the subject.
From her base in India, which has seen the same thing happen after natural disasters, Nicolette Grams of the International Justice Mission predicts that trafficking gangs will be moving in to seize their prey. She says human trafficking is a problem in Haiti at the best of times, affecting a quarter-million Haitian children each year.
These slaves, known as restavecs, are typically sold or given away to new families by their own impoverished parents. Physical and sexual abuse is common for restavecs. Many owners use the girls as in-house prostitutes, sending them to live on the street if they become pregnant.
Not all of these trafficked children end up as domestic slaves within Haiti—plenty of others are promised work in the Dominican Republic but are instead sold to work in agricultural fields or brothels across the border. Poor children who escape a life in bondage most often end up in street gangs; if they are fortunate, they may be accepted into overcrowded orphanages.
Given the life and death needs facing the authorities and aid workers, watching out for traffickers is most unlikely to be on their list of priorities. Some voices have been raised against whisking children overseas with a view to adoption, but at least those children are being cared for well and can always be reunited with relations if that seems best for them.
Better adoption than enslavement.
Meanwhile, an international organisation whose solution to the social problems of Haiti is to prevent children being born, also continues to ply its trade there. International Planned Parenthood is appealing for funds for “basic first aid, as well as obstetric care and family planning” in Haiti, where its two largest clinics have been destroyed.
Before the earthquake each of these clinics was dishing out condoms, chemical contraceptives and abortions to 200 Haitians a day through the local IPPF affiliate, Profamilia (sic), and has been doing that sort of thing since 1984. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Haiti has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world, and the highest in the Western hemisphere.
One hoped these people would keep quiet about birth control, for once, as they deal with women who have lost children or other family members. Basic first aid and obstetric care could easily consume all the funds they raise.
One organisation that you can be sure is focused on helping mothers is MaterCare International, which is also appealing for funds for its emergency effort in Haiti.