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26314: news: Haitian Children sold....
Haitian children sold as cheap labourers and prostitutes for little more than
Dominican Republic accused of turning a blind eye to thriving trade in
Gary Younge in Santo Domingo
Thursday September 22, 2005
On market day in Dajabón, a bustling Dominican town on the Haitian border, you
can pick up many bargains if you know where to look. You can haggle the price
of a live chicken down to 40 pesos (72p); wrestle 10lb of macaroni from 60 to
50 pesos; and, with some discreet inquiries, buy a Haitian child for the
equivalent of £54.22.
"You just ask around town," says Hilda Pe-a, who monitors border crossings for
the Jesuit Refugee Service. "People know who the scouts are. You just tell
them what kind of child you are looking for and they can bring across whatever
it is that you want."
There is a thriving trade in Haitian children in the Dominican Republic, where
they are mostly used for domestic service, agricultural work or prostitution.
Eight-year-old Jesus Josef was one of them. Numbed by a mixture of trauma and
shyness, this small boy with huge eyes cannot recall how he left his three
brothers and mother in Haiti and ended up doing domestic work for a Dominican
family in Barahona, 120 miles from the capital, Santo Domingo.
Jesus sits quietly as Father Pedro Ruquoy, who runs a refuge near Barahona,
tells how he escaped from the family and ran away to a local hospice. When he
arrived his neck was twisted from carrying heavy loads on his shoulder and the
marks on his slender torso suggested ill-treatment. The Dominican family found
out where he was and came to the hospice demanding either his return or 10,000
pesos for the loss. "They used him as a slave," says Mr Ruquoy. "And they
Nobody knows quite how many Haitian children like Jesus there are in the
Dominican Republic. A Unicef report in 2002 put the figure at around 2,500,
although some NGOs think it might be twice that. Most boys under the age of 12
end up begging or shoe shining and giving their proceeds to gang leaders; most
girls of that age are used as domestic servants. Older boys are taken to work
in construction or agriculture; teenage girls often end up in prostitution.
Tensions have long existed between the two countries that share the island of
Hispaniola. In May, and then again last month, the Dominican Republic
summarily deported thousands of Haitians, many of whom had the right to stay.
A former Haitian consul to the republic, Edwin Paraison, says the situation
had not been this bad since the former Dominican military leader Rafael
Trujillo massacred 20,000 Haitian sugar cane workers in 1937. "This is the
first time regular people are trying to run Haitians out of the country," he
says. "There is an organised campaign to reject Haitian presence."
But even as Haitians are reviled, they are also needed for their cheap labour.
The manner in which the children arrive varies. Some are kidnapped but most
often their parents not only know, but actually pay "busones" or scouts to
ensure their safe passage in the hope that they will have a better life.
"Half of all Haitians struggle to eat even once a day," says Helen Spraos,
Christian Aid's Haiti representative. "It doesn't take much to push people
over the brink. If the rains fail or someone falls ill, they have to sell what
little they have - perhaps a pig or a goat - to buy medicines. Eventually they
have to sell their land. Once they reach rock bottom, the one way they can
provide for their children is by sending them to live in the cities or in the
Dominican Republic. There at least they may be fed and have some prospects for
making a living."
Such stories are familiar in the narrow alleyways in the barrios of Christo
Rey, an area of Santo Domingo. Nine-year-old Louseny's mother died when she
was a baby and she was raised by her grandmother in central Haiti. Last month,
her grandmother paid her "aunt" to bring her over the border and leave her
with people Louseny did not know. Louseny says she misses her home.
Florencia Talon, who looks after 10-year-old Violetta after her mother left
her, says people have approached her in the street to ask her to take in
children. "In most cases the Haitian family is told that the child will go to
someone who will help raise the child," says Father Jose Nu-ez, the director
of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Santo Domingo. "They are told they will get
an education and have a better chance. But this actually happens very, very
rarely. In most cases they are verbally or physically abused and mistreated."
Getting them over the border is the easy part. According to Unicef, about a
third of trafficked children come through the mountains; the rest go through
official border checkpoints. On market day in Dajabón, the only papers you
need to get across the bridge that links the two countries are peso notes to
bribe the border guards. Those who are turned back simply wade across the
"The scouts are paid around 600 pesos, half of which goes to the scout and
half of which is paid to the immigration authorities as a bribe," says
Angelica Lopez, the Jesuit Refugee Service director in Dajabón. "The Dominican
state and the military are completely complicit in the trafficking." Once
across, the child will be passed through series of more informal networks
until they are placed with a family, gang or into work.
There is a law against trafficking in the Dominican Republic, but it is rarely
enforced and the authorities remain in denial. "There is no trafficking," says
Juan Casilla, the state prosecutor for Dajabón. "I have never had one case of
trafficking lodged with my office."
Mr Ruquoy says the sugar companies are also complicit, paying Haitian
traffickers 2,000 Haitian gourdes (£26.44) for each worker.
Over at the sugar fields near Barahona, the smell of burning cane stems and
the sound of slashing machetes suggest a scene from another century. Hundreds
of men, their ragged clothes held together by sweat and grime, hack away
beneath a high sun and above the smouldering stems, which are easier to cut
when burned. From 6am until 6pm they are there, swinging, yanking, slicing and
burning for about £1 a day. Ask any of them and they will tell you they are
18. Look and you will see that about one in eight could not possibly be older
Jesus Nord, 15, used to be one of them. Two years ago he paid a Haitian scout
50 gourdes to smuggle him over the border and then went to work in the fields
for a year. After being cheated of his earnings and physically abused, he
left. "I was never there when they weighed the sugar so they would give me
less then they owed," he says. "They also used to beat me to make me work
The Barahona refinery, the Consorcio Azucarero Central, is part of a
consortium, whose main shareholder in Guatemala could not be reached for
The trafficking of Haitian children represents the bottom rung of a migratory
ladder through the Americas that sees Dominicans striving to get to Puerto
Rico, and Puerto Ricans moving to the US. "The market for cheap labour keeps
people moving," says Mr Nu-ez. "Since so many other countries have closed
their doors to Haitians the only chance they have is to go to the country that
is slightly less poor than Haiti and the easiest to get to. The economy could
not function without them. But it takes a terrible toll on the individuals."
Population 8.1m (July 2005)
Infant mortality rate: 73.45 deaths for every 1,000 live births
Life expectancy: 52.92 years
Politics Interim president, Boniface Alexandre, sworn in after former leader
Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile in February 2004
GDP: $12bn (2004)
Real growth rate: -3.5% (2004)
Labour force Agriculture 66%, industry 9%, services 25%
Unemployment: widespread; more than two-thirds of the labour force do not have
formal jobs (2002).
Population 8.9m (July 2005)
Infant mortality rate: 32.38 deaths for every 1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth: 67.26 years
Politics Leonel Fernandez began his second non-consecutive term as president
in August 2004, after winning elections in May for the Dominican Liberation
GDP: $55bn (2004)
Real growth rate: 1.7% (2004)
Labour Force Agriculture 17%, industry 24.3%, services and government 58.7%
Unemployment rate: 17% (2004).
22.09.05: Gary Younge reports from the Dominican Republic (QuickTime)
22.09.05: Gary Younge reports from the Dominican Republic (Windows Media
Find out what Christian Aid is doing to counter the trafficking of children
from Haiti into Dominican Republic
20.12.2001: Media in the Dominican Republic