|© UNICEF/ HQ05-1907/LeMoyne|
|A boy fishes for shrimp in polluted water near the northern port city of Gonaives, Haiti.|
By Jane O'Brien
NEW YORK, USA, 21 March 2006 – Haiti’s children are facing a continuing struggle for survival, with one in eight likely to die before the age of five. A lack of basic services such as water, health care and education is compounded by poverty and violence, locking children into a cycle of deprivation and abuse.
A new UNICEF report, ‘Child Alert: Haiti’, highlights the plight of the country’s 3.8 million children and calls on the government to act. “The violence that pervades every level of society hampers any sustainable development,” says UNICEF Haiti Representative Alberto Gonzalez-Regueral.
Many communities have been devastated by fighting across the Caribbean nation. They have no water or electricity, and food is often hard to find. An estimated 2,000 children are living on the streets of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince alone. Many have been orphaned by AIDS while others have fled abuse at home. They turn to prostitution, beg for food or join armed gangs for survival.
|© UNICEF/ HQ05-1949/LeMoyne|
|Land degradation has left Haiti bare.|
“In most cases those children don’t have any choice,” says UNICEF Child Protection Officer Njanja Sassu. “They are either coerced into joining armed groups or they join armed groups because they are completely outside the family structure.”
Children at the centre
The UNICEF report on Haiti asserts that violence is one of the biggest threats to the country’s future. Without a protective environment, children are less able to learn, they are more prone to illnesses and malnutrition, and they begin to devalue themselves – stunting their development as productive citizens and potential leaders.
Only half of Haiti’s children attend primary school and the drop-out rate is increasing – particularly among girls. Getting children back to school is a UNICEF priority because it helps to protect them from violence, exploitation and abuse. But most families can’t afford the school fees.
‘Child Alert Haiti’ concludes with a call for children to be put at the centre of the country’s political agenda. Expressing UNICEF’s hopes that the recent elections will provide the necessary stability for positive change, the report welcomes the comments of Haiti’s new President, René Préval.
“Children must be taken off the streets,” President Préval said in a recent Agence France-Presse interview. “Weapons must be taken from the hands of children and replaced with pens and books.”
21 March 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on the plight of Haiti’s children