Breakdown Of Rule Of Law Puts Haiti’s Vulnerable Children At Increased Risk For Human Trafficking

International NGO raises concern about security of tens of thousands of orphaned children

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As chaos continues to build in the wake of the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, global concern for the welfare of the country’s children – particularly those who have lost parents in this catastrophe – also grows. Aid groups now report that tens of thousands of children have been orphaned by the quake.

Even before Haiti’s magnitude-7.0 earthquake, the country – one of the world’s poorest – struggled to provide for and protect its children. According to the United Nations’ Children’s Fund, 380,000 children were living in group homes or orphanages. This group, and countless other children living in desperate poverty across the country, is particularly vulnerable to the global crime of human trafficking.

“Natural disasters increase individual vulnerability and break down rule of law, key factors exploited by human traffickers,” explains Gary Haugen, president and CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights agency that brings immediate relief to victims of human trafficking, modern-day slavery and other forms of violent oppression. “Unfortunately in such situations, children are the most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. I’ve seen this in my work around the world with IJM. The situation in Haiti is ripe for a tragic acceleration in the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable children, and the world must stand vigilant against it,” Haugen said.

Rule of law – security and stability – must be the order of the day.

Haugen sees the crucial need for nearby countries, including the United States, to support a temporary civilian police force to control looting, trafficking, rape, and the abduction of vulnerable Haitian children. Serious attention should be paid to temporary shelters where orphaned children are gathered to prevent encroachment by traffickers, pimps, and abusers; while immediate efforts must be made to secure Haiti’s borders so that traffickers are not permitted to abduct children from the country. Haugen says, “Rule of law – security and stability – must be the order of the day.”

Already a quarter-million Haitian children are reported trafficked within the country each year – sold into sexual exploitation or domestic servitude. Even before this natural disaster, Haiti’s justice system lacked the capacity to provide meaningful protection from traffickers for vulnerable children; the U.S. State Department’s 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report pointed to the nation’s “limited resources, an untrained and poorly equipped police force, entrenched government corruption, and perennially weak government institutions” as woefully ineffective in combating trafficking in the nation.

Global Trafficking Epidemic

Human trafficking – according to the U.S. State Department, the second-largest and fastest-growing criminal industry in the world – thrives in a breakdown of government and law enforcement. While the critical situation in Haiti is a sobering reminder of the centrality of effective rule of law for protecting the most vulnerable from violent abuse, according to the U.N.’s Commission on Global Empowerment of the poor, four billion people today – 60% of the world’s population – are excluded from the protection of rule of law around the globe.

“At IJM, we believe the best way to protect the world’s poor and vulnerable from acts of human trafficking and violent oppression is functioning public justice systems – dependable law enforcement and working courts. The global community must commit not only to bringing relief and rescue to Haitians in the immediate aftermath of this terrible tragedy, but to standing with this nation long-term, as it rebuilds – and in many ways, creates anew – a justice system that will function to protect its children from human trafficking and other forms of violence,” said Holly Burkhalter, IJM’s Vice President of Government Relations.

The knowledge gained through more than a decade of individual casework performed on the frontlines of the battle against human trafficking informs our work and methodology; at IJM, we aim to apply and share that knowledge with policy makers and shapers, NGOs and faith-based organizations working on the ground in areas of great need and potential dangers – like Haiti and around the globe.


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