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At a glance: Haiti

Warning of the dangers of child trafficking in Haiti

By Gabrielle Menezes

TOTOY, Haiti, 23 March 2011 – Most of the marketplace in the small Haitian border town of Totoy has come to a standstill. Some women are still chopping cabbages, or trying to lead mistrustful goats to stalls, but the majority has stopped to listen to the woman standing on a makeshift platform before them.

VIDEO: UNICEF's Gabrielle Menezes reports on efforts to prevent child trafficking on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  Watch in RealPlayer


She is Ellie Widlene Jasmine, one of a number of UNICEF-supported partners who travel to remote villages near the border to teach people about the dangers of sending their children with strangers to wealthier neighbour, the Dominican Republic.

“What is child trafficking? It’s when you have a child, and you entrust it to someone else, without the child agreeing,” Ms. Jasmine, of non-governmental organization (NGO) Heartland Alliance, tells the people around her.

She explains how parents are often unknowingly complicit in trafficking their children. Traffickers promise they will look after the children, send them to school in the Dominican Republic, and give them a better life.

Violation of child rights

Ms. Jasmine says she understands it is a tempting offer. Most Haitian families have many children, and don’t have the means to look after them.

© UNICEF Haiti/2011
Parents in the Haitian border town of Totoy listen as a UNICEF-supported educator explains how they can be tricked into allowing the trafficking of their children to the Dominican Republic.

But the reality is that trafficking violates the rights of a child to grow up in a family environment, says Ms. Jasmine. In addition, trafficked children are exposed to dangers such as violence, prostitution, and work in harsh environments for little or no pay.

Many of the parents in the crowd are shocked.  “I never knew that this existed, and after hearing this, I would never send my child to go away with a stranger,” says Marie Anna Baldé, who has a little girl.

Ms. Baldé’s sister is now looking after her daughter in Port-au-Prince, because it is easier to find better schools in the capital. “I know my sister, and speak to my child every day,” she says.

Porous border

Although sensitization helps educate parents on the dangers of child trafficking, it can’t solve the problem alone. In 2009, UNICEF estimates that at least 2,000 children were trafficked from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.

© UNICEF Haiti/2011
Ellie Widlene Jasmine is one of a number of UNICEF-supported educators who travel to remote villages near the Haitian border to teach people about the dangers of child trafficking.

Last year’s earthquake exacerbated the problem, with most families poorer and more desperate. Now, UNICEF is supporting Child Protection Brigades at four official border crossings, which check vehicles to ensure that children without papers, and those unaccompanied by their parents, don’t cross into the Dominican Republic.

Although this deters some traffickers, the border between the two countries is porous. A UNICEF mission passed through miles of uncontrolled border.

Away from the main road that separates the two countries, are many small paths winding through forests and hills that traffickers use with impunity.

‘Work together’

“We crossed the border from Haiti into the Dominican Republic without anyone stopping and asking for our papers,” says UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Gallianne Palayret.

© UNICEF Haiti/2011
In 2009, UNICEF estimates that at least 2,000 children were trafficked from Haiti to the Dominican Republic. Children in Haiti have become more vulnerable to trafficking since the 2010 earthquake.

“Imagine how easy it is for traffickers. People need to understand that everyone – parents, governments and NGOs – need to work together in order to improve the situation, and ensure that children are protected.”

Child trafficking is a multi-layered problem. But by sensitizing communities, supporting border patrols and working with governments, UNICEF is trying to make sure that children vulnerable to trafficking are protected at every stage.



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