In Haiti’s unstable post-quake atmosphere, at least one industry is poised to flourish. For those who buy and sell children for sex and cheap labor, Haiti is ripe with opportunity,
Nicolette Grams, staff member of the International Justice Mission, writes in the Atlantic. Grams uses her article to illuminate the escalating threat of child trafficking through the lens of her own experience working with vulnerable and impoverished populations in India. She reminds us that among the less visible consequences of previous natural disasters around the world — from the 2004 tsunami to the devastating flooding of India’s poorest state, Bihar, in 2008 — is the opportunity for traffickers to pluck children up right out of the wreckage:
Rescuing victims of slavery and sexual exploitation are our [IJM's] specialties, and natural disasters unfailingly bring us new business …
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.
Nevertheless, as Grams points out, Haitians and foreign relief workers are hardly in a position to adequately monitor and protect children:
Keeping an eye out for suspicious strangers would seem to be the least of the nation’s problems. With most of Haiti’s hospitals reduced to piles of rubble, aid groups like Doctors Without Borders are struggling to set up inflatable care centers in parking lots. Prisoners are escaping from their destroyed cells, and the riots surrounding food trucks have stretched police forces to their limits.
Meanwhile, an entirely new chunk of Haiti’s population has become homeless over night. Even with aid pouring in from around the world, essential resources like food and medicine are enormously scarce on the streets of Haiti. But for predators looking for boys and girls to sell for labor and sex, Haiti is the right place to be.