90 minutes from Disney World on the western half of the Island of Hispaniola Haitian children are at constant risk of sexual exploitation. Haiti's eastern neighbor, the Dominican Republic features picturesque island getaways where affluence affords European and American tourists the opportunity for every sort of decadence, including the use of a Haitian child to fulfill their most perverse fantasies.
Since the 2010 earthquake it is estimated that up to 10 thousand children have been trafficked across the Haitian border into the Dominican, often with the complicity of the authorities, always with evil intent. The Miami Herald reports:
"[O]n a recent night, reporters — and tourists — watched a police supervisor stand over a teenage prostitute as she rubbed his belly from a chair. The cop and the girl laughed.
Another young man who introduced himself as a tour guide boasts that he has "Haitian girls of all ages." The young man described in aberrant detail the shape of the developing body of a 12-year-old. "Her (breasts) are still growing."
"Men who have been here before are confident that the police won't arrest them if they pick up the younger girls," said one Dominican girl.
Many of the newcomers seem to be younger than 17 and, despite wearing heavy makeup, skintight dresses and stilettos, often appear embarrassed and awkward when they offer tourists their bodies for less than $30."
According to the Herald:
"All the officials know who the traffickers are, but don't report them. It is a problem that is not going to end because the authorities' sources of income would dry up," said Regino Martínez, a Jesuit priest and director of the Border Solidarity Foundation in Dajabón, a Dominican border town.
Reporters witnessed smugglers carrying children across a river, handing them to other adults, who put the kids on motorcycles and speed off to shanty towns. Border guards, charged with preventing this very operation, witnessed the incidents and never reacted, the reporters found.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive acknowledged that there has been a lack of political will to tighten the porous 230-mile border between the nations, which he called a "no man's land and an opening for bigger trafficking."
"There is not one person who feels they have an interest in controlling the frontier," Bellerive told The Miami Herald. "There are people on the Haitian side who are profiting because they are the ones who organize the trafficking. The same on the Dominican side."
Haitian children wait for relief in the first days after the earthquake. Their parents dead or missing, the children are half naked, lonely and scared, with many in a state of shock. A stranger proffering kindness in the form of food or shelter may seem heaven sent, but may in fact be a malevolent opportunist.
Nelta, a 13-year-old Haitian, told The Herald that she walked for three days with two other young girls to reach Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic. She said a female trafficker left them at a hideout in that town. "A man raped me in the shelter," said Nelta.
The buscones (hustlers), as the smugglers are known, not only deliver children on request. They also deliver them a la carte to strangers. "You choose the age, what sex, and skills of the Haitian kid you want," one smuggler told an El Nuevo Herald reporter."
Herald reporters repeatedly watched smugglers transport children across the borders unhindered. With the bulk of the child smuggling concentrated in the northern border of the island of Hispaniola, between the towns of Dajabón, 180 miles from Santo Domingo, and Oanaminthe in Haiti, separated by the Masacre River.
The Masacre River, dubiously named, shallow (above) and narrow (below) enough to navigate easily Haiti's porous border with the Dominican.
A chaotic, bi-national wholesale market opens every Friday and Monday in Dajabón. Thousands of merchants and buyers show up, allowing smugglers to pass money — usually $1 — via Haitian bag men to Dominican officers, who look the other way as the child cargo moves amid the chaos.
The devastation left by the earthquake, the lack of civil infrastructure, and the aggravated poverty in Haiti have left the vulnerable ever more so. And with 300,000 dead and 2 million more displaced from the earthquake, the Dominican has become a place of hope for many of Haiti's downtrodden. Traffickers make promises that desperate Haitians want to believe, and many, especially the newly orphaned, fall victim to the lies.
Megan Boudreaux, founder of Respire Haiti, says the actual numbers of trafficked children may never be known. She adds, "Unfortunately, in a country where there is a population of 9 million people and there are nearly 1 million orphans, there is lots of exploitation of children. After the earthquake it was estimated that between 25 and 100 children were crossing the border to the Dominican Republic EVERY DAY! Many of the children came from the largest slum in Haiti, City Soleil. It’s only a matter of minutes when a young woman and her baby walk into City Soleil, before someone is offering to buy her child. Sadly, because SO many of these children lack paperwork and proper documentation, they are easily trafficked without people even knowing they are gone."
Megan believes the solution is education, more precisely the opportunity for an education for Haiti's impoverished youth. With only 45 percent of children attending primary school and less than 15 percent enrolled in secondary school there is an educational crisis in Haiti. To this end Respire is building a school (below) for 300 children in the city of Gressier. You can help Respire and Megan end the cycle of hopelessness here.
As always, from all of us at Conspiracy Of Hope, thank you for caring about justice. Thank you for being a voice for the voiceless. Thank you for sharing Haiti's story with your friends, and for supporting groups like Respire Haiti in their efforts to rescue Haiti's most vulnerable and restore both dignity to their lives and hope to their hearts. None of us would expect any less for our own children.