Haiti is grappling with a troubling surge in kidnappings, impacting approximately three million children who live in a constant state of anxiety. The deep-seated effects on these young lives are exacerbated by their limited capacity to fully process such traumatic ordeals. This crisis is rooted in the country’s colonial history, compounded by a series of natural disasters and political instability. The rise in abductions poses a serious threat not only to the people of Haiti but also to those offering assistance.
Overview of kidnappings
In the first six months of 2023, there have been nearly 300 confirmed cases of kidnappings in the country. This number is almost equal to the total number of kidnappings in the entire previous year (2022) and nearly three times higher than in 2021 (UNICEF, 2023). The surge has created a climate of fear and terror, as women and children are being abducted from streets in broad daylight. This situation has left approximately 5.2 million people in Haiti, with about 3 million of them being children, living in constant distress (UNICEF, 2023).
The capital, Port-au-Prince, has been the primary epicenter for gang-related violence. Gang confrontations have caused harm to students and teachers, and the vicinity of schools has seen an increase in kidnappings of parents and students, leading to school closures.
To make matters worse, the chronic instability has forced people to flee, resulting in at least 160,000 displaced refugees. As a result of the steep price increases, these individuals are also experiencing food shortages, and some are enduring severe hunger (Hurtado M, 2023).
Severe impact on children
Many children and their families urgently seek refuge in religious communities or schools, driven by their desperate need for essential supplies like food, which frequently fail to meet their requirements. This pressing need is underscored by the plight of hundreds of children in Haiti. From toddlers to teenagers, they find themselves sleeping in classrooms due to the unsafe living conditions. These children, who are already grappling with the trauma of their experiences, are now confronted with additional challenges as they endeavor to rebuild their lives and regain a sense of control (BBC, 2022).
The impact of these traumatic events on children is profound, as they lack the psychological capacity to fully grasp and process such experiences. Some children may even develop psychiatric disorders as a result of the trauma they’ve endured.
In this context, robust support from both adults and institutions plays a crucial role in helping these children navigate through these challenging experiences. Following traumatic events, they can find value in trauma education and community support, facilitating their recovery and restoring a feeling of safety in their lives (Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, n.d.).
Potential reasons behind the rising kidnappings
The nation’s history has been scarred by colonialism, which left them in a fragile state, after a multitude of challenges. As a former colony of the United States and France, the country’s struggles extend beyond its colonial legacy. For generations, the country grappled with the aftermath of having to pay “reparations” to France, the nation that had enslaved its people. These reparations, often comprising a significant portion of government revenue, weighed heavily on the nation’s economic growth (Bland A, 2023).
Furthermore, Haiti has not seen functional elections since 2019, and it has been teetering on the edge of fragility since the devastating 2010 earthquake that claimed the lives of up to 300,000 people. The country endured additional hardships, including the destructive Hurricane Matthew in 2016. The situation took a darker turn with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. Just a month later, another earthquake rocked the nation, pushing Haiti further into turmoil (Al Jazeera, 2023).
The gang violence has seen a disturbing increase since the assassination of the president, exacerbating the country’s already widespread political instability. According to the United Nations, armed gangs have extended their control over significant areas of the capital.
In these territories, they have engaged in acts of murder, kidnapping, and sexual violence as part of their efforts to expand their influence and instill fear among the local population (Al Jazeera, 2023). These intertwined factors have left the state in crisis, requiring both international support and internal reform to address its deep-rooted issues and pave the way for a more stable and prosperous future.
Government response and international assistance
Haiti ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, pledging to uphold children’s rights. However, the actual realization of these rights faces significant hurdles. As a result of the persistent gang violence crisis, these children are in dire need of fundamental essentials such as clean water, sanitation, and sufficient food, which remain scarce for a substantial number of them. Furthermore, many children leave school prematurely, and some never have the opportunity to attend (The World’s Children’s Prize, n.d.).
The surge in abductions poses a grave threat not only to the people of Haiti but also to those who have come to offer assistance. These events have placed immense pressure on the local healthcare systems, pushing them perilously close to collapse. Additionally, schools have become targets of these violent gangs, making it increasingly challenging to deliver much-needed aid and support to affected communities (France 24, 2023).
In response to Haiti’s escalating crisis, Kenya has already stepped forward to lead a multinational peace force to assist the overwhelmed security forces and help the struggling nation (France 24, 2023). Simultaneously, the Haitian government should prioritize security and governance reforms, invest in education and healthcare, and work towards long-term stability to alleviate the suffering of its people and build a brighter future for the children.
As a global NGO committed to safeguarding the well-being of children, Humanium unequivocally condemns the dire situation of gang violence in Haiti, recognizing the flagrant violation of children’s rights to a safe environment. If you would like to support our cause, please consider donating, sponsoring a child, or volunteering in one of our projects.
Written by Lidija Misic
Al Jazeera (2023), ‘Extremely worrisome’: Kidnappings of women, children surge in Haiti. Retrieved from Al Jazeera at https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/8/7/extremely-worrisome-kidnappings-of-women-children-surge-in-haiti, accessed on October 28, 2023.
BBC (2022), Haiti gang violence: Children take shelter in school. Retrieved from BBC at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-62274255, accessed on October 28, 2023.
Bland Archie (2023), Haiti crisis: how did it get so bad, what is the role of gangs, and is there a way out? Retrieved from The Guardian at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jan/12/haiti-crisis-jovenel-moise-gangs-water-way-out, accessed on October 28, 2023.
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress (n.d.), The Impact of Kidnapping, Shooting and Torture on Children. Retrieved from Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at https://www.cstsonline.org/assets/media/documents/CSTS_impact_kidnapping_shooting_torture_children.pdf, accessed on October 28, 2023.
France 24 (2023), ‘Alarming’ rise in kidnapping of Haiti children, women: UNICEF. Retrieved from France 24 at https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20230807-alarming-rise-in-kidnapping-of-haiti-children-women-unicef, accessed on October 28, 2023.
Hurtado Marta (2023), Haiti – gang violence. Retrieved from OHCHR at https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-briefing-notes/2023/03/haiti-gang-violence, accessed on October 28, 2023.
The World’s Children’s Prize (n.d.), How are Haiti’s children? Retrieved from The World’s Children’s Prize at https://worldschildrensprize.org/haiti, accessed on October 28, 2023.
UNICEF (2023), Kidnappings of children and women spiking at alarming rates in Haiti. Retrieved from UNICEF at https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/kidnappings-children-and-women-spiking-alarming-rates-haiti, accessed on October 28, 2023.