Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Child Trafficking

So you hear the term child trafficking, but you can't really grasp the idea because you've never witnessed it or knew someone who has been affected by it. Well it hit home for me today. I know there are cases of child trafficking here in Haiti, but I never knew just how bad and prevalent it was. Today at our orphanage, we received 32 children who were all put into a truck that was on the way to the Dominican Republic border. They were kidnapped from the same zone and was en route to be sold off across the border. How horrible is that? Thank goodness that the border police stopped the truck that was carrying the children and arrested the people that were behind the incident. The children were all immediately transported to IBESR, which is the child welfare office in Haiti. IBESR called us and we started to make room for the children. We know which zones the children were kidnapped from , but it is a large area. The children will be temporarily staying at the orphanage until we can find all of their biological parents for us to send them back to. It is going to be a very tedious process, but a nessassry one. I cannot even imagine the horror the children must have gone through on this journey, but I am glad that they are finally safe now!

Child trafficking is a huge problem in Haiti and UNICEF and the police have been trying to regulate the problems for years. The results of the most recent study of trafficking across the border conducted by UNICEF in 2002 reported that between two thousand and three thousand children were trafficked to the Dominican Republic each year.Things have gotten a lot worse since the earthquake, just because there are so many children on the streets without supervision. They are the ones that are the most vulnerable to kidnappings and bribes from strangers. Many times, a man will be driving a truck through the city and just yelling that he has food to give out and children will swarm the truck. That's all it takes.

Another big problem in Haiti is the the idea of "restavecs." Restavek in Creole means "to stay with." Children, often given up by their poor Haitian families, "stay with" more affluent families as slaves. And like most slaves, they're usually subject to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. According to the Restavec Children Foundation, these children are often given away or sold by poor families in order to survive. Frequently the children's most basic rights to health and education are denied. They are not paid for their work and often abused. For instance, the restavecs have to return to their duties in the house, after having escorted the house owner's children to school. The restavec boys and the girls often flee at the age of 12-13, joining one of the many street gangs or ending up as prostitutes.This is something that happens in all areas of Haiti, not just the poor slums. Before the earthquake, the Haitian government estimated that more than 300,000 Haitian children were living as restavecs in the country, and more of them abroad. That number has substantially increased after the earthquake. It is a harsh reality for many of the children and teens in Haiti. It is part of the culture and at times, all a child knows her whole life.

I've spoken with children and teens where they tell me no one wants them and they were passed from one family to another. When things got way too bad with one family, they would run away, live in the streets, and then find another family to "stay with" again. If they keep staying on the streets, it is often getting into the wrong crowds, like joining gangs and becoming prostitutes. It is a vicious cycle and abuse is almost always attached to these experiences. Many of the children pick up sexually transmitted diseases and worst of all, HIV/AIDS. And the few lucky ones gets picked up from police and sent to IBESR for further placement in a safe haven, such as an orphanage. The trauma that these children go through are enormous and the fact that they can still find reason to smile after all these experiences is something that I have great respect and admiration for. I just pray that the ones who are still living in the nightmares of child trafficking and restavecs can be freed soon and those who have been rescued can start healing and just simply be kids again.

So at around 4:30pm today a small charter bus, marked with IBESR and UNICEF signs, being escorted by the Haitian police, arrived at the orphanage. I can see small faces peaking through the big windows with wide eyes observing the surrounding. Everyone was quiet on the bus and the process of verifying each child's names began. I was put in charge of the process because it was after working hours, almost all the staff had left the compound for their homes. The people of IBESR, who had escorted the children to us, handed me 32 dossiers. We had each child, one at a time, descend the charter bus. I would verify their full names and the nurse would put a name bracelet on the child. Then someone would grab the child's things and lead her toward the waiting around outside the creche. We all did this 32 times over the hour and a half that IBESR was here.

I watched each child get off of the small bus with her clothing and drink in hand. All 32 children were girls, ranging from the ages of 2 to 9 years old. They were all quiet, shy, and reserved. Almost all of the children's hair were orange in color, which is a sign that they are malnourished. Many of the girls had rashes and fungal infections on their skins. You can see the shock on many of the girls' faces as they got off of the bus. It was one of the many trips they have taken over the last week and finally it was coming to an end. One girl grabbed my leg really hard and wouldn't let go. She was afraid of going into the orphanage. I held her close and told her that it was going to be okay and that I can go with her. I grabbed her things and we went into the room together. She saw the beds and all the toys piled up in the corner and gave me a huge smile. I looked at me and then ran toward the pile of toys. That smile was precious and it gave me a sense that she was going to be okay. The aunties gave each child a bath and clean clothes to wear. After everyone was all cleaned up, we all went outside to the lawn area. I usually run after work and so the children all joined me in running laps around the lawn. I heard the screams, the laughter, and giggles of all the girls as they all ran around barefooted. I can see on their faces the joy and pure happiness of knowing that they are okay and in a safe place tonight. One little girl ran toward me, gave me the biggest hug ever, and looked up to the sky and shouted "Hallelujah!!!"

To the 32 little girls, I say to you, "Don't worry child, everything is going to be okay!"


  1. Dear Lori:

  2. this is a heartbreaking story......i felt very heavy after i read the story. i decide to pass this to all my friends, there must be someone or something or some efforts that can help reduce the tragedy of children trafficking and children least we can pray for them......

    mom with love+

  3. good job, sis
    This is what you call "meaningful work"
    got enough rest. . .