In the months prior to the January 12, 2010 earthquake, the Government of Haiti had made limited anti-trafficking progress; prospects for additional, future progress were greatly impeded by the earthquake, which killed over 230,000 people, displaced 1.3 million people, including at least half a million children, and destroyed much of Port au Prince, including much of the government’s infrastructure. The limited capacity of Haitian state institutions to respond to human trafficking was further weakened by the earthquake’s monumental damage. Haiti remains a Special Case for the fifth consecutive year as the earthquake derailed government efforts to address the significant challenges facing the country, including human trafficking. The Government of Haiti, in partnership with NGOs, identified child trafficking victims, but it did not enact much-needed anti-trafficking legislation. The following background and recommendations are provided to guide government officials and organizations working on anti-trafficking initiatives in Haiti.
Scope and Magnitude. Haiti is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor and forced prostitution. The majority of trafficking cases are found among the estimated 225,000 restaveks —the term for the practice of child slavery in domestic settings—in Haiti and the approximately 3,000 additional Haitian restaveks living in Dominican Republic. The majority of children become restaveks when they move to cities to live with extended families in the hopes of going to school. Restaveks are treated differently from other non-biological children living in households; in addition to involuntary servitude, restaveks are particularly vulnerable to beatings, sexual assaults and other abuses by family members in the homes in which they are residing. Restaveks are often dismissed when they become teenagers. Dismissed and runaway restaveks make up a significant proportion of the large population of street children, who frequently are forced to work in prostitution or street crime by violent criminal gangs. Since the earthquake, local shelters have received a record number of restaveks. Many are also living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. The Haitian National Police and local NGOs reported an increase in alleged cases of forced labor and forced prostitution of children and adults since the earthquake. Women and girls are increasingly vulnerable to the IDP’s self-appointed “security guardians,” who exploit them in exchange for “protection.”
The UN has reported on forced prostitution of Dominican women in brothels in Haiti frequented by MINUSTAH Peacekeepers. Some of the Haitians who voluntarily migrate to The Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, other Caribbean nations, South America, and the United States subsequently face conditions of forced labor in agriculture, horticulture, domestic service, and construction.
Government and International Efforts: In a positive step, Haitian officials recognize that human trafficking, including the nonconsensual exploitation of restavek children, is a serious problem in the country; however, the lack of legislation prohibiting all forms of trafficking is a major obstacle to progress. The national police child protection unit, the Brigade for the Protection of Minors, does not pursue forced labor or forced prostitution cases because there is no statutory penalty. There may also be confusion among elements of the Haitian government and some of its international donors between the crimes of human smuggling, human trafficking, and illegal adoption. Legislation criminalizing all forms of human trafficking has been pending in Parliament for several years.
The government lacked formal victim identification and assistance policies and resources but the government’s social welfare agency worked well with NGOs to identify and refer victims. Prior to the earthquake, the Ministry of Social Affairs in partnership with an international NGO identified 126 restaveks; after the earthquake NGOs have identified 816 restaveks in 25 major IDP camps in Port-au-Prince. In addition, border officials took commendable steps to identify and assist potential child trafficking victims in the aftermath of the earthquake. Shelter services for adult trafficking victims do not exist. Prevention efforts have been largely NGO driven.
There have been reports that after the earthquake, some members of the international aid community have disregarded Haitian government input on strategies to assist trafficking victims and prevent trafficking. For example, influential members of the international aid community are promoting family-based foster care for unaccompanied minors despite Haitian government concerns that this foster care could lead to more children in situations of forced labor – similar to restaveks – because the government lacks the capacity to adequately monitor placements. A divergent definition of trafficking in persons within the NGO community further hindered coordinated anti-trafficking strategies. There have been reports of duplication of anti-trafficking efforts by international organizations unaware of local mechanisms already in place.
Recommendations for Haiti: Enact legislation criminalizing forced prostitution and all forms of forced labor, including involuntary domestic servitude, with penalties that reflect the heinous nature of this human rights abuse; in partnership with NGOs, adopt and employ formal procedures to guide officials in proactive victim identification and referral of victims to available services; provide in-kind support for victim services; improve access to quality education for all children.
Recommendations for the international aid community: increase coordination with the government of Haiti and Haitian NGOs on anti-trafficking responses; promote a definition of trafficking, which includes forced child labor such as that experienced systematically by restaveks; incorporate restavek prevention and protection in relief and broader development efforts, including education initiatives for all children and sensitization for parents regarding the reality of restavek life; build the capacity of Haitian institutions responsible for child protection.
SOMALIA (Special Case)
Somalia remains a Special Case for an eighth consecutive year due to the lack of a viable central government since 1991. Control of its geographic area is divided among the self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland, the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, and the remainder of the country nominally under the control of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Somalia currently lacks a national governing structure that could assume responsibility for addressing the country’s human trafficking problem. During the reporting period, fighting by TFG troops, allied militias, and African Union forces against anti-TFG forces, terrorist groups, and extremist elements continued. The TFG remained preoccupied with the task of securing government representatives and installations from attacks by such elements; in this perpetual state of insecurity the government was not able to address human trafficking. In addition, the TFG currently lacks the necessary means to identify, investigate, or address systemic issues in Somalia, including those related to forced labor and forced prostitution; its capacity to address human trafficking will not significantly increase without tangible progress in reestablishing governance and stability in Somalia.
Scope and Magnitude. Information regarding trafficking in Somalia remains extremely difficult to obtain or verify; however, the Somali territory is believed to be a source, transit, and perhaps destination country for men, women, and children who are subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically conditions of forced labor and sexual servitude. There have been very few reported cases of trafficking, mostly as a result of the lack of public awareness of the problem. Somali women and girls, some of whom were trafficking victims, engaged in prostitution in brothels in Garowe, the Puntland-administered part of Las Anod (Soor region), and pirate towns such as Eyl and Harardheere. Some female brothel owners, who can profit as much as $50 per client, reportedly kept these victims in harsh conditions and meted out physical abuse. Because of an inability to provide care for all family members, some desperate Somalis willingly surrender custody of their children to people with whom they share family relations and clan linkages; some of these children may become victims of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. In Somali society, certain groups are traditionally viewed as inferior and are marginalized; Somali Bantus and Midgaan are sometimes kept in servitude to other more powerful Somali clan members as domestics, farm laborers, and herders.
Human smuggling is widespread in Somalia and evidence suggests that traffickers utilize the same networks and methods as those used by smugglers. There were reports of trafficking offenders preying on young women and children, mostly internally displaced persons from South/ Central Somalia, at marketplaces and in the streets, falsely promising them lucrative jobs outside Somalia. Dubious employment agencies are involved with or serve as fronts for traffickers, targeting individuals desiring to reach the Gulf States. Somali women are smuggled, sometimes via Djibouti, to destinations in the Middle East, including Yemen and Syria, as well as to Sudan and South Africa, where they are subjected to conditions of involuntary domestic servitude and, to a lesser extent, forced prostitution. In 2009, there were several reported cases of Somali women trafficked into the commercial sex trade in Sudan after smugglers abandoned them midway through their journey to Libya. Somali men are subjected to conditions of forced labor as herdsmen and menial workers in the Gulf States. Somali children are reportedly smuggled to Saudi Arabia through Yemen for forced begging. Members of the Somali diaspora use fake offers of marriage to lure unsuspecting victims, many of whom are relatives, to Europe, where they are forced into commercial sexual exploitation. Ethiopian women are smuggled through Somalia to Yemen and onward to other destinations in the Middle East where they are forced into domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation.
The recruitment and use of children in militias and other fighting forces is a longstanding practice in Somalia and continued during the year. A January 2010 UN report indicated that the number of child soldiers in Somalia had increased over the last three years, with widespread recruitment from schools, madrasas, and among street children. While the TFG’s military appeared to be less systematic in the practice of recruiting children than other armed groups, youth under the age of 18 continued to be recruited, including by force and deception, into militias associated with the TFG, its allied forces, and into militias controlled by individuals within the government. Ethnic Somalis claiming to represent the TFG reportedly also recruited underage Somalis from Kenya-based refugee camps in North East Province, as well as possibly Kenyan youth from surrounding areas. There were no reports of Somaliland and Puntland authorities recruiting or using child soldiers during the reporting period.
During the reporting period, al-Shabaab, Hisbul Islam, and allied armed groups used force and deception to exploit orphaned and street children for use in armed conflict, carrying out assassinations, planting bombs, portering, and domestic servitude. Al-Shabaab systematically and forcibly conscripted children, sometimes as young as eight, from southern Somalia, as well as smaller numbers from Puntland. In Kismayo, Baidoa, and Merka, al-Shabaab obligated all boys 15 years of age and older to fight or face death; leaders reportedly killed an estimated 16 teenagers after they refused to serve as fighters. The group also forcibly recruited young girls who were then “married off” to its militia leaders and used for logistical support and intelligence gathering. In February 2010, for example, Hassan Turki recruited 100 girls between 14 and 18 years of age into his militia in Afmadow, Lower Juba. Al-Shabaab also reportedly recruited Somali children from Kenya-based refugee camps and Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood.
Government Efforts. The respective authorities operating in Somalia’s three regions made few concrete efforts to address human trafficking during the reporting period; there is a severe lack of capacity in every part of the country to adequately address the problem. Understanding of human trafficking and how it is to be identified and addressed remained low among government officials and the general population. TFG officials recognized trafficking as a problem, but acknowledged that it is not a priority.
None of the three regions have laws that specifically prohibit human trafficking, though the pre-1991 penal code outlaws forced and compulsory labor and local laws prohibit forced labor, involuntary servitude, and slavery in Somaliland. There is neither a unified police force in the territory to enforce these laws, nor any authoritative legal system through which trafficking offenders could be prosecuted. There were no known prosecutions or convictions of human trafficking offenses, including by traditional or Shari’a courts, during the reporting period. Unlike in previous years, both Somaliland and Puntland authorities made some efforts to arrest and prosecute smugglers; some arrests may have been linked to human trafficking, but most suspects were released due to lack of evidence. Most crimes, including rape, were addressed under customary law, with penalties varying among clans; most punishments for rape involved paying five to 40 goats or up to 50 camels to the victim’s clan members. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for government officials or protection to trafficking victims; extremely limited victim services were available through national and international NGOs.
The Somaliland administration sustained a partnership with IOM during the reporting period to raise public awareness of human trafficking through radio messaging, posters, billboards, and community-level meetings. IOM also helped local officials construct a one-room counter-trafficking center and establish a committee to identify and assist victims at the Togwajale border post. The Somaliland Human Rights Commission reportedly began a study of human trafficking in the republic.
During the reporting period, the TFG’s military improved its recruitment practices and participated in formal troop training to stop child soldier recruitment. New recruits, trained in Uganda and Djibouti, were thoroughly vetted and underage soldiers were removed from the new units upon return to the country. In June 2009, President Sharif publicly condemned al-Shabaab leadership for its recruitment and use of children in armed hostilities. In May 2009, TFG police arrested 14 children who had been kidnapped in the Lower Shabelle Region and forced by al-Shabaab into its militia; the police released the children after several days of care. In March 2010, police intercepted a vehicle along Mogadishu-Afgoe Road transporting 30 children recently recruited by al- Shabaab and took the children to the office of the Police Commissioner. The police provided the children with food and alerted the media in hopes that parents would retrieve their children after hearing radio broadcasts.