A Haitian "restavek" or child slave
(Source: Loving Shepherd)
We’ve all heard about the Haitian “orphans” that a group of American Baptist missionaries tried to smuggle into the Dominican Republic in collaboration with accused Dominican sex trafficker Jorge Puello back in January. But this story - sordid as it was - represented only the latest crescendo in a never-ending symphony of human suffering. Speaking to reporters last Friday, a Dominican immigration official from Santiago Province, Juan Isidro Perez, announced that the trafficking of earthquake victims by Haitian and Dominican gangs remains a serious problem. Using a system of roadblocks and surprise searches along highways entering the north of the country from Dajabón Province on the Haitian border, his officers managed to intercept forty-eight trafficked Haitian citizens last week. On Tuesday alone they captured a minibus filled with forty illegal immigrants. Ten days earlier, they stopped a truck packed tight with eighty Haitians, most of them children. His agency is currently caring for up to sixty men, women, and children who have been collected in recent raids.
UNICEF and other international organizations have been warning about increased human trafficking, and particularly the trade in “orphans,” ever since the January 12 earthquake. “We have documented around fifteen cases of children disappearing from hospitals and not with their own family at the time,” UNICEF adviser Jean Luc Legrand said in late January. “UNICEF has been working in Haiti for many years and we knew the problem with the trade of children in Haiti that existed already beforehand. Unfortunately, many of these trade networks have links with the international adoption market.” In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on January 27, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said: “There is organ trafficking for children and other persons also, because they need all types of organs.”
Haiti had been a hub of the trade in human flesh long before the earthquake struck - which is certainly a cruel fate for the first nation to be born of a slave rebellion. According to a US State Department report on trafficking in persons from 2009,
“Haiti is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. Haitian women, men, and children are trafficked into the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas, the United States, Europe, Canada, and Jamaica for exploitation in domestic service, agriculture, and construction. Trafficked Dominican women and girls are forced into prostitution. Some may be patronized by UN peacekeepers in Haiti... Several NGOs noted a sharp increase in the number of Haitian children trafficked for sex and labor to the Dominican Republic and The Bahamas during 2008. The majority of trafficking cases are found among the estimated 90,000 to 300,000 restaveks [child slaves] in Haiti, and the 3,000 additional restaveks who are trafficked to the Dominican Republic. Poor, mostly rural families send their children to cities to live with relatively wealthier “host” families, whom they expect to provide the children with food, shelter, and an education in exchange for domestic work. While some restaveks are cared for and sent to school, most of these children are subjected to involuntary domestic servitude. These restaveks, 65 percent of whom are girls between the ages of six and 14, work excessive hours, receive no schooling or payment and are often physically and sexually abused. Haitian labor laws require employers to pay domestic workers over the age of 15, so many host families dismiss restaveks before they reach that age. Dismissed and runaway restaveks make up a significant proportion of the large population of street children, who frequently are forced to work in prostitution or street crime by violent criminal gangs. Women and girls from the Dominican Republic are trafficked into Haiti for commercial sexual exploitation. Some of the Haitians who voluntarily migrate to the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas, the United States, and other Caribbean nations, subsequently face conditions of forced labor on sugar-cane plantations, and in agriculture and construction.
In light of smuggling activities whose extent we can only guess at, it may be that the Haitian children allegedly trafficked by the American missionaries for adoption in the United States were getting off easy.