Human trafficking takes place all over the world, and as long as there are poor countries whose inhabitants have little hope for improving their standard of living due to unemployment, lack of housing, sub-standard health, education, water and sanitation services etc., poor people will seek new horizons in other parts of the world, in more developed countries that offer them opportunities to work and earn money for a better life.
Children and young people are also part of this reality. A family that is mired in poverty seeks new horizons for its sons and daughters, with the false belief that they will have a better life despite being far away from their family, but as they cannot migrate legally because of their poverty, they resort to illegal immigration and fall victim to trafficking.
It is not easy to pinpoint the number of trafficked minors because they are difficult to identify, and there are no registers or indicators, no legal processes on the matter, and there are seldom complaints and reports of this type of offence.
With the aim of making inroads into the situation in the Dominican Republic, UNICEF-Santo Domingo has supported two studies on the trafficking of children and young people. The first was a rapid evaluation called “Trafficking of Haitian Children to the Dominican Republic” (UNICEF- IOM, 2002), jointly supported by UNICEF and the International Organisation for Migration; the second was a more detailed piece of research entitled “Trafficking of Children and Adolescents from Haiti to the Dominican Republic” (UNICEF, 2004).
Both studies pointed to the existence of a set of factors in both countries - political, cultural, legal as well as socio-economic - that create the conditions for trafficking, such as: the economic crisis, poverty, some cultural and traditional practices that do not respect children’s rights (for example, the “restavèk” practice of sending poor children off to be looked after by relatives or better off families), complicity between the border authorities in both countries, the demand for child labour, and others.
The studies also revealed that Haitian and Dominican traffickers operate with impunity along the border, operating like extensive networks that take advantage of the conditions of poverty experienced by Haitian families. They trick fathers and mothers into letting their children leave, only for them to end up being exploited in agricultural work and the sex trade, domestic service, begging and street selling.
The situation experienced by children who enter the country illegally, brought in by human traffickers, is illustrated in the 2004 study. Some 38% of the 784 Dominican and Haitian children questioned worked in the agricultural sector, as domestic workers in family homes and in other informal activities (street selling). Their working day was no different to that of an adult, with a six to seven-day week – because “they need to feed themselves”.
This tough workload has an adverse effect on their integrated development, and most strikingly on their school attendance and education. Of the entire group surveyed, only half of the children over the age of five were attending school, and the rest were not, for many reasons, including the inability to combine work and school, and a lack of a birth certificate.
Children who were brought into the country by traffickers, apart from being exposed to exploitation, live with feelings of having been abandoned and feel the absence of clear family references, while suffering discrimination, rejection and abuse. All this has a dramatic impact on their emotional and psychological welfare and will affect their future social relationships.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, need to ensure its fulfilment by taking measures at a national, bilateral and multilateral level to prevent kidnapping, sale or trade in children for whatever purpose and in whatever shape or form.
It is not enough to penalise the traffickers; there must also be efforts to prevent and protect (– all victims of trafficking should be protected!!) victims of trafficking, through social mobilisation and development campaigns, and by developing initiatives aimed at helping and protecting children and young people, while implementing social policies that take into account the population groups that are most vulnerable to illegal migration and trafficking.
Training in Trade and Trafficking for Judges and Public Prosecutors