On January 28th, 10 American Baptist missionaries were stopped by border control guards from the Dominican Republic while trying to bring 33 Haitian children into the country. The Americans have been charged with attempting to illegally take these children out of the country. Currently, these Americans remain in jail while awaiting another hearing before a Haitian tribunal judge. Could this be a case of attempted child trafficking?
In the past two weeks, warning of the increased danger that Haitian children face toward being sold into modern day slavery have been heard on Larry King Live, and the New York Times. Lack of security, unmet needs, families torn part, and a government at a loss for how to protect it’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens all make a horribly perfect breeding ground for the buying and selling of Haitian children.
However, I think it’s important to look toward a few rays of light that point toward hope. Look at the current case of the 10 Americans who were bringing 33 Haitian children across the Dominican Republic border. They were stopped. While these Americans most likely did not have had the intentions of trafficking Haitian children, they were attempting to bring children who clearly were not their own across the border. The Dominican Republic border guards rightfully investigated. Furthermore, the children were not immediately returned to their parents. Rather, they were carefully taken to a well-known international aid orphanage, the SOS Kinderdorf. While the children and their families may not see this as a positive thing, it speaks to the organization and dedication of the country to protect its children from being sold into slavery or trafficked across borders.
So, how can the Haitians protect the hundreds of thousands of other Haitian children from being potentially trafficked? A FAIR Fund advisor and world renowned author, Benjamin Skinner, reports that 300,000 Haitian children were enslaved as “restavaks” or “stay withs’ who were enslaved for domestic labor. These children have been used as the lowest form of labor in the country. Many are turned out on the streets in early adolescents, ending up in prostitution, petty crime, and often death. Child slavery is in fact hidden in plain sight.
How do traffickers get away with this horrible human rights violation? Traffickers prey on the vulnerability and desperation of others. Who are more vulnerable then children who have lost their families? Or, families who feel they can no longer provide basic needs for their children. These vulnerable children are now being thrust into a lawless situation with violent criminals who are now running loose from the Haitian jails. Haitian children were and continue to be extremely vulnerable.
What Haitian children need are dedicated and trained professional advocates who are able to work with orphanages, children’s homes, and even families to better understand how to evaluate potential trafficking situations. FAIR Fund educates children on how to protect themselves from trafficking, but in the case of Haiti, these conversations would only work when there are a dedicated team of child rights professionals working to protect these children.
It’s not just Haitian children who are at risk toward trafficking. In our past six years, FAIR Fund has assisted over 200 youth, some of whom are teenagers right here in Washington, D.C. They too are lost, without supportive families, going nights without food, and looking for a safer place. Those who pretend to offer them a “better life” are also luring them. FAIR Fund is here working with our partners, including law enforcement, to identify and assist these youth. Yet, of the 850 teens FAIR Fund educated about human trafficking in 2008, over 50% reported knowing another teen being exploited by prostitution. However, in 2008, 35 cases of child sexual exploitation were identified in D.C. We also need to work on our efforts to assist our most vulnerable teens.
A Child is a child. Exploitation is exploitation. No one deserves to be enslaved.