Jacqueline Charles (Miami Herald) writes, “They’re abandoned and separated. This is the perilous plight of Haiti’s children.” Here are excerpts:
[. . .] “Your dad, what is his name?” asks Michelot Difficile. “Tonton? Tonton what?”
Difficile works on the Haiti-Dominican border with the International Organization for Migration, which helps Haiti’s child welfare agency, the Institut du Bien-Être Social et de Recherches, or IBESR, reunite abandoned and separated children with their families. The United Nations’ agency also monitors trafficking along the border.
On this day, Difficile isn’t sure whether the youngster is intentionally stonewalling him, as traffickers often coach their young victims to do, or whether he truly can’t remember where he’s from. In July, the boy was picked up in the market in the Haitian border city of Ouanaminthe, and transported by IBESR to a safe house at the end of a winding dirt road.
“He doesn’t talk,” said Judith Surlin, the social worker who runs the safe house opened by the Soeurs Saint-Jean religious order. “No one has ever come to ask for him.” Jefferson’s stay at the shelter was supposed to be temporary — 15 days at the most. But he’s been here now for six months, the longest of any of the 20 children currently under Surlin’s care. Most of the children, she said, were abandoned by their parents in Haiti. Two were separated from their parents after they were deported by the Dominican Republic, as part of its continuing effort to repatriate undocumented Haitians and Dominicans born of Haitian descent who were retroactively stripped of their citizenship after a 2013 Dominican court ruling.
In a country where thousands of children are trafficked every year, the plight of Haiti’s children along this porous border is a perilous one. There are the street children, who have nowhere to go after fleeing abuse or being abandoned by their parents. There are those who are deported to Haiti without their parents, like 6-year-old Roberto, who was sent across the bridge by Dominican officials after he was picked up. Some are outright victims of trafficking, like Guerline, a 15 year-old sitting next to Jefferson who said her brother-in-law was arrested by Haiti National Police officers as he attempted to cross with her into the Dominican Republic. [. . .]
Supported by UNICEF and IOM, the safe house is in many ways a lifesaver. [. . .]
[. . .] The child protection specialists acknowledge that the temporary shelter, which can house only 30 kids, doesn’t begin to make a dent in the desperate plight of Haiti’s border children. [. . .]
With its child welfare system under a cloud of international scrutiny, Haitian officials vowed to do more to protect children. Last year, the government launched its first ever foster care system, and in May, Haiti finally came into full compliance with the Hague Adoption Convention regulating international adoptions. “We recognize their effort to combat trafficking,” said Robin Diallo, interim chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince. “But there is still work to do.”
Human trafficking, especially involving children along the 245-mile border dividing Haiti and the Dominican Republic, remains a daunting concern — so much so that Haiti-born actors Garcelle Beauvais and Jimmy Jean-Louis recently teamed up to star in and co-produce the film Lalo’s House, about Haiti’s child trafficking crisis. [. . .]
But with hundreds of thousands of children still being exploited as domestic servants or restaveks, and “a significant number” of children fleeing employers’ homes or abusive families for the streets, the government needs to do more, the report said.
Adding to the concern, say IOM officials, who, before funding ran out on Oct. 31, had closely monitored the four official border crossings for trafficking, are the ongoing deportations of Haitians from the Dominican Republic. Among the 229,885 individuals who registered with IOM after crossing into Haiti between July and September were thousands of children who were returned without their parents — a violation of international law and the agreement between the two countries, IOM said.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Olivier Tenes, head of IOM’s operations in northeast Haiti. “In September, 156 minors have been repatriated.” In all, 4,167 presumed unaccompanied and separated children were returned to Haiti from the Dominican Republic between July and September, according to IOM’s tracking data. And most of them came across the Massacre River Bridge in Ouanaminthe. [. . .]