Trafficking in Persons Report 2008 - Special Cases - Haiti

Haiti has been in political transition since widespread violence and political instability led to the resignation of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Since the release of the 2007 Report, the government continued to struggle to provide basic services and security for citizens, and to control rampant crime in its capital, Port-au-Prince. In April 2008, the government's prime minister was forced to resign during violent food riots across the country. Haiti remains the least developed nation in the Western Hemisphere, and is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an average per capita income of less than $500 per year, and an unemployment rate of nearly 60 percent. The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti currently has more than 6,500 troops and 1,600 UN police on the ground to reduce gang violence and kidnappings. Due to the absence of effective government institutions and a well-trained and equipped national police force, Haiti has been addressing its significant human trafficking challenges. Haiti remains a special case for a third consecutive year in recognition of its transitional status. However, the U.S. Government strongly urges the Government of Haiti to take immediate action to address its serious trafficking in persons concerns. The following background and recommendations are provided to guide government officials.

Scope and Magnitude. Haiti is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. The majority of trafficking in Haiti stems from poor rural families giving custody of their children to more affluent opportunities. The practice of trafficking such children, who are called restaveks, is widespread and often involves sexual exploitation, physical abuse, and domestic servitude, a severe form of trafficking in persons. While difficult to gauge, the Government of Haiti and UNICEF estimate the number of restaveks to range between 90,000 and 300,000. Haitian girls between the ages of six and 14 tend to be placed in urban households, and boys are trafficked into agricultural servitude. Some children are recruited or coerced into joining violent criminal gangs as fighters or thieves. Other Haitian children are sent to the Dominican Republic, where they live in miserable conditions. Dominican women and girls reportedly are trafficked into Haiti for commercial sexual exploitation, some to Haitian brothels serving UN peacekeepers. Haitians also commonly migrate to the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, the United States, and other Caribbean nations, where after arrival, they reportedly may be subjected to conditions of forced labor on sugar-cane plantations, and in agriculture and construction.

Government Efforts. Haitian officials recognize that human trafficking is a serious problem in the country, including the exploitation of restavek children as domestic servants. The government should make every effort to enact comprehensive legislation to define and criminalize all forms of human trafficking, including forced labor and domestic servitude. With assistance from IOM, the Pan-American Development Foundation, and the OAS, the government drafted an anti-trafficking bill, which has been submitted to parliament in early March 2008. Under existing law, Haiti does not prohibit trafficking in persons, although other criminal statutes penalizing slavery, kidnapping, and violence against women could be used to prosecute some trafficking crimes until antitrafficking legislation is passed. As a policy matter, the government's police child protection unit, the Brigade for the Protection of Minors (BPM), does not pursue restavek trafficking cases because there is no statutory penalty against the practice. Fighting trafficking in persons effectively depends, in part, on continuing Haitian and international efforts to build a functional national police force. In conjunction with passage of the draft anti-trafficking bill now before parliament, police and prosecutors will need more specialized anti-trafficking training. The government should take steps now to prepare for implementation of the new law and to assist victims. The government also should continue to work with NGOs and social-welfare agencies to improve its ability to identify, refer, and provide services to restaveks and other Haitian children exploited as domestic servants. During the reporting period, the government renovated a children's shelter outside of Port-au-Prince with international assistance. Shelter services for adult trafficking victims, however, do not exist. Increased anti-trafficking training for judges, police, and prosecutors would assist the government's efforts, in addition to working with the Dominican Republic to improve security and aid trafficking victims in border areas. Haiti has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.


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