PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti – Haitian children remain the target of kidnappings, killings, sexual violence and child trafficking, and they have also been active participants in recent public protests, the United Nations peacekeeping mission to the impoverished Caribbean country reports.
The latest report from MINUSTAH, covering the period from January to July this year and released this week, found that children continue to be affected by armed violence, despite the general improvement in the security situation in Haiti.
Kidnapping is a particularly strong concern, with children comprising more than one in three victims and girls becoming an increasingly favoured target of armed gangs. Since the start of the year 66 minors have been abducted, compared to 80 for all of 2007.
Two child victims were killed, including one 16-year-old body whose tortured body was found despite the payment of a ransom to his kidnappers. Many of the girls who are abducted are also sexually abused.
Overall, sexual violence against children remains “a high concern,” according to the report, although some local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have indicated there has been a decrease compared with last year.
There has also been an “alarming increase” in the trafficking of children to the neighbouring Dominican Republic for labour and sexual exploitation. Nearly 750 children were repatriated by Dominican authorities in the first five months of the year.
MINUSTAH officials said children were also active participants in the violent demonstrations in early April that led to the dismissal of the then prime minister. Almost one in three protesters was believed to be a minor, according to reports from the UN mission’s military battalions.
Children took part in riots, blocked roads, looted shops and tried to enter the presidential palace, while some minors were also involved in kidnappings and rapes.
The report noted that the judiciary has made reassuring progress in its treatment of children in conflict with the law, especially thanks to the increased effectiveness of the Court for Minors.
But the number of children who have to endure prolonged pre-trial detention remains high, and many minors are forced to share the same cells in jails and detention centres as adult prisoners. The average period of pre-trial detention is now more than 22 months.