At a glance: Haiti

Haiti: Grim reality for street children

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
A homeless boy begging on the street of Port-au-Prince, the capital.

By Kun Li

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 27 December 2005 – Homeless children stand in the middle of a busy street in order to stop passing cars and beg passengers for money. This scene has become far too common in many neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

In this city alone there are thousands of street children. Extreme poverty and political instability have left them no other choice but to fend for themselves. To stay alive, many of them wash cars, load buses, or beg, while others become involved with armed gangs in the hope of protection and a better chance of survival.

“These children are deprived of affection and protection. They do not have access to food and education, and are constantly under the threat of all kinds of violence, including sexual abuse and exploitation,” said Sylvana Nzirorera, UNICEF Haiti Communication Officer.

The health and hygiene conditions for street children are precarious. Many of them suffer from a range of skin and respiratory diseases, as well as sexually transmitted infections. HIV/AIDS infection rate is as high as 20 per cent among street children, with most cases being among girls.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Homeless children play in the courtyard of the Lakou Centre, a foster care facility supported by UNICEF.

Lakou – a ray of light for many street children

Amid the grim reality, a number of foster care centres have served as a ray of light for many children. The Lakou Centre is one of them. Headed by Father Attilio Stra, an Italian native who has been working with Haiti’s children for 30 years, the centre provides the children with a safe place to play, laugh and learn useful skills.

Every day about two hundred children and young people pass through the large courtyard of the centre (‘Lakou’ means ‘courtyard’ in Creole). Whether riding around on unicycles or gliding on wobbly roller blades, within the Lakou compound these children are free to be children again.

“Almost all the children who come to the centre are traumatized by bad experiences. They were treated badly,” said Father Attilio, who is the director of the centre. “You can hardly find a child who doesn’t have a scar on his body. We invite them to the centre and teach them vocational skills to prepare them for a better future,” he continued.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Young mother Nana Pierre, 18, (centre) rests at the Lakou Centre with her baby and other homeless mothers.

Here the children are given a chance to learn mechanics, metal work, hair dressing and tailoring. The centre also runs a nursery for the children of street children, who became mothers at a very early age.

“I had my first child at 14, and I gave birth on the streets,” said Nana Pierre, 18.

“I have three children, the first was born when I was 16. This is my son, and he is 4 years old. I gave birth to them on the street,” said Marienette Azor, 20.

Young women like Nana and Marienette are the most vulnerable. Poor living condition and the dangerous nature of a street life have made them easy targets for sexual exploitation and HIV/AIDS.

Although the Lakou centre has been a safe haven for many homeless boys, girls and babies, it can only shelter them for so long. Each day, after of a few hours of peace and comfort, the need to make a living will once again drive the children back onto the streets.

 


 

 

Video

27 December 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on the grim reality for Haiti’s street children.

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