by Amanda Kloer
UNICEF has confirmed that at least 15 Haitian children have vanished from areas hospitals in the days since the earthquake, and they suspect those children — and more — are falling victim to child trafficking rings.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, thousands of children are separated from their families, with many not knowing whether their parents and guardians are still alive. And while humanitarian organizations can confirm children who go missing from hospitals and group homes, huge numbers of children remain on the streets, unaccounted for, just waiting to be picked up by traffickers.
A number of child protection organizations have come together to ask would-be parents not to apply to adopt Haitian children. Since the earthquake, the number of adoption applications for Haitian children has soared from 10 per month to 150 in a three day period. One U.S. adoption agency claimed it has already received over 1000 applications for children from Haiti. Child advocacy groups are concerned, however, that a bump in adoptions of Haitian children will only encourage child traffickers to abduct children and pass them off as orphans, hoping to make a tidy profit from their sale. While Western families trying to adopt Haitian children likely mean well, they may encourage child trafficking within the country. If you are considering adopting a Haitian child, please consider donating instead to a child protection organization working in Haiti.
But the children disappearing from hospitals may be on the road to a more sinister fate than life in the U.S. in a loving and stable home. Before the earthquake, Haitian children under 15 made up 45 percent of the population. With such a large number of poor youth, may children found themselves victims of sexual exploitation, forced domestic servitude, and forced labor. And as the chaos subsides and international aid moves out, the number of children victimized by traffickers will only increase. If the Haitian economy is too broken to support demand for maids or commercial sex, the children will likely be shipped to the Dominican Republic or other nearby countries, including the U.S.
Haiti is not a unique situation; human trafficking usually increases after natural disasters. In 2004, in the wake of the massive tsunami which struck Asia, thousands of children were left vulnerable. Human trafficking in that region saw a significant upswing. And the next major natural disaster will be the same. But for now, you can help the children of Haiti by supporting the organizations linked to above and not requesting to adopt a Haitian child right now.
Photo credit: Matt Drigdenberg