Violence drives Haiti’s children into armed groups; up to half of all members are now children – UNICEF

Children are experiencing a ‘vicious cycle of suffering’ as violence continues to spike

31 May 2024
Children display artwork they created during psychosocial and educational activities organized by APADEH, in collaboration with UNICEF, at a school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
UNICEF/UNI557180/Erol
Children display artwork they created during psychosocial and educational activities organized by APADEH, in collaboration with UNICEF, at a school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

PORT AU PRINCE/NEW YORK, 28 May 2024 – As armed violence continues to drive the deteriorating conditions across Haiti, the UN has estimated that 30 to 50 per cent of armed group members are children who are subject to coercion, abuse and exploitation stemming from persistent social, economic and political fragility caused by ongoing violence that has spiraled parts of the country into chaos.

The situation for children in Haiti is dire. Ninety per cent of Haiti’s population live in poverty and three million children remain in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, years of political turmoil, alongside the devastating economic conditions, have led to the proliferation of armed groups which, in the absence of other means of survival or protection, many of the country’s children are increasingly forced to join – a clear violation of their rights.

“Children in Haiti are stuck in a vicious cycle of suffering. Children are pushed to join armed groups out of pure desperation, including horrific violence, poverty and a breakdown in the systems that should protect them,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “Children are used by armed groups for different tasks, including as cooks, cleaners, ‘wives’, or lookouts. But what these children have in common is a loss of innocence and the connection to their communities. The impact on each affected child is a tragedy that demands urgent action. Their protection and welfare must be prioritized, including safely ending the connection with armed groups, ensuring their reintegration into society, and facilitating safe access to essential services and support.”

The latest estimates show that more than half a million children in Haiti are living in neighbourhoods controlled by armed groups, which puts them at higher risk of violence, and child recruitment. 

Children are frequently compelled to join armed groups either as a means of supporting their families, or due to threats against themselves or their families. Additionally, many children join groups after being separated from their families, as a means of survival and protection.

Recruitment and use of children by armed groups constitutes a grave violation of their rights, and enlisting children of any age into armed groups is a clear breach of international law.

UNICEF, the Ministries of Justice, Education and Labor and Social Affairs of Haiti recently agreed on joint ways of working to support the reintegration of children who previously were members of armed groups. This agreement represents a milestone in safeguarding their wellbeing.

So far in 2024, the violence has intensified, with more than 2,500 people killed, injured, or kidnapped. The UN has verified more than 400 grave violations against children. At the same time, families continue to be displaced by the violence. More than 180,000 children are now internally displaced.

Despite the highly volatile environment, UNICEF is stepping up efforts to protect families and provide life-saving support, including for those who are trapped and cut off from essential services. Together with the Government and partners, UNICEF is helping to sustain national, regional, and – in the most insecure areas – neighborhood systems and services that protect children and families.

UNICEF is calling for accelerated efforts by the international community to protect children in Haiti by:

  • Ensuring the internationally-supported security mission prioritizes the protection of children, the safety of civilians, and a commitment to uphold humanitarian law and the space for humanitarian action.
  • Supporting efforts to prevent and end grave violations against children, including protection of schools, hospitals, and other facilities children rely on, and for the safeguarding of humanitarian spaces.
  • Strengthening support to in-country efforts to secure sustained, predictable, and unimpeded humanitarian access at scale, including safe movement of humanitarian and frontline workers and delivery of essential services and supplies to populations in need.
  • Increased immediate, flexible funding to meet the humanitarian and protection needs of the most vulnerable as the situation evolves, ensuring aid reaches affected children, including children who have escaped or been released from armed groups, as quickly as possible.

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Notes to editors

Media contacts

Giacomo Colarullo
Communication Officer
UNICEF
Tel: +1 718 791 8245
Maxime Le Lijour
UNICEF Haiti
Tel: +50939030350

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