Monday, March 15, 2010

"How to Buy a Child" Child Trafficking and Child Slavery in Haiti

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Everyone has the right to life and liberty. No one shall be held in slavery.

But at least 27 million people today are held in slavery. What would shock us into action? What if we find out that we can buy a child in Haiti in less than 12 hours? That the buyer could force the child to do anything he/she wanted. What if we learn that a child can be loaned, bought or sold on the 'market' for as little as $100, and if we pressed and bargained, we could bring the 'cost' down to $50?

That's $50 for a 10 year-old child who would act as a sex partner as well as a domestic servant. And what if we find out that in Haiti, slavery still exists today and that currently more than a quarter million Haitian children are loaned and traded, mostly for sex and labor?

An ABC News story, "How to Buy a Child in 10 Hours" and the book, A Crime So Monstrous by Benjamin Skinner, show how easy it is to buy a child in Haiti for around $50 to $150 and do whatever one wants with the child. And that was before the earthquake.

In 1926, the Slavery Convention, in article 1.1., established an international definition of slavery. "Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised".

With independence, came the end of slavery in Haiti in 1804. Slavery is illegal in Haiti. In fact, slavery is illegal throughout the world. At least, officially anyway. However, according to many estimates, we have more slaves in the world today than at any other point in history. And Haiti is no different.

It is said that, technically, these children, known as restaveks, are not slaves. In Haiti, it is common to lend a child to other families, mainly relatives, to help with extra domestic work. Poor families lend their children to wealthier families and in exchange for the domestic help, those children would receive housing , food, clothing, and education. And some children do receive all this; however, the reality for majority of the children is very different. A restavek child is a servant who is forced to work seven days a week without any pay, is excluded from other children in the family, has no time for play or school, and is subjected to abuse.

Jean-Robert Cadet, who is a former restavek and the founder of Restavek Freedom, has said, "A restavek is a child placed in domestic slavery". A CNN article says, "According to the foundation, restavec children are usually responsible for preparing the household meals, fetching water from the local well, cleaning inside and outside the house, doing laundry and emptying bedpans. They usually sleep on the floor separate from members of the family they serve, and are up at dawn before anyone else to do household work. Sometimes they're physically and sexually abused".

We should not even be talking about slavery today. Throughout history, many agreements and laws have passed to abolish slavery, but still it turns out, there are more than 250,000 thousand children slaves in Haiti. Again, I wonder, what would shock us into action?

And this was the condition before the earthquake. Even before the earthquake, Haiti had a serious problem with child trafficking and slavery.

After the earthquake, the condition has only worsened for these children. These children were far away from their families and now have no where to go. In times of crisis, these children are the first to be thrown out on streets, ready to be picked up by traffickers and sold to exploiters.

Many reports warn of the dangers of child trafficking. Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has said that he has received reports of child trafficking, including organ trafficking. "Any child that is leaving the country has to be validated by the embassy under a list that they give me, with all the reports," he said.

Legally this may be true, but in reality acquiring papers does not seem very difficult. As pointed out in a shocking ABC News story, it is very easy for traffickers to get fake papers. "As further enticement, the trafficker says he can even get me fake papers that would allow me to take this child back to the U.S. with me. Both traffickers say they have experience providing children to Americans. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, officials have no idea how often this sort of transaction transpires".

Clearly, Haiti needs better laws to protect these children from abuse and slavery, but all this brings up a much deeper question. Slavery is possible only because of the existence of inequality between any two people. In today's world, slavery is not about race or skin color, it is about profit and exploitation of vulnerable members of the society. Many times we've read human trafficking is caused by poverty.

Human trafficking is not caused by poverty; it is caused human traffickers and exploiters, it is a crime committed by criminals and silent observation fuels this problem. We have to attack the root of the problem; we have to attack the root of inequality. Slavery, exploitation, and abuse have existed throughout history, much before population and poverty were a problem, like in our world today. Slavery and exploitation are not new phenomena and human trafficking is just a new name for slavery and exploitation. An increase in population and poverty does not and cannot explain how one human can treat another human this way.

I cannot imagine a more horrifying crime than human trafficking - commodification of human beings so they can be bought and sold on the market, again and again, only to be used and abused by others.

So again I wonder, what is needed for every single person to act and fight against this horrifying crime? What would shock us into action?

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