Predators in the rubble

The Atlantic’s Nicollette Grams foresees explotation of displaced and orphaned children after the Haitian quake:

When the earthquake struck the impoverished island country last Tuesday afternoon, human traffickers suddenly gained access to a new population of displaced children. With parents dead, government offices demolished, and international aid organizations struggling to meet life-or-death demands, these kidnappers are in a unique position to snatch children with very little interference.

In today’s world, the twin causes of human slavery—poverty and vulnerability—increase exponentially after natural disasters. When the tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004, trafficking gangs moved quickly, seizing children and selling them as prostitutes in nearby Malaysia and Jakarta. In 2008, after floods devastated the Indian state of Bihar, groups of children were lured out of relief camps and sold to brothels across the nation.

I’ve seen many such stories up close. For the past three years, I’ve worked in India for International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights agency with twelve offices around the world. Rescuing victims of slavery and sexual exploitation are our specialties, and natural disasters unfailingly bring us new business. One of my first cases dealt with a widowed mother and her six children who had been trafficked after a drought destroyed their livelihood. A local kiln owner, who was in the business of offering good jobs to drought-affected villagers, had approached them with an opportunity. The desperate widow took the bait and found herself and her children forced into slavery at a brick kiln with no hope of escape. The widow was subjected to violent physical abuse and raped repeatedly by the owner and his cronies.

In Haiti, as in India, human trafficking is a problem at the best of times. Even without the pandemonium unleashed by a 7.0 earthquake, an estimated quarter-million Haitian children are trafficked within the country each year. These slaves, known as restavecs, are typically sold or given away to new families by their own impoverished parents. Physical and sexual abuse is common for restavecs. Many owners use the girls as in-house prostitutes, sending them to live on the street if they become pregnant.

Not all of these trafficked children end up as domestic slaves within Haiti—plenty of others are promised work in the Dominican Republic but are instead sold to work in agricultural fields or brothels across the border. Poor children who escape a life in bondage most often end up in street gangs; if they are fortunate, they may be accepted into overcrowded orphanages.

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2 Responses

  1. This is a very sad situation and a very sad story.

    It should be noted that there is one error in the story — poverty and vulnerability have never caused and never will cause human slavery. This phrase disociates slavery from it’s true cause–evil.

  2. Thank you for posting Gram’s story. It is worrying that international community can (or is willing to) do so little to protect children from exploitation.

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