Officials with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti have voiced alarm at the continuing spate of kidnappings of children in the impoverished country, days after abductors killed a boy apparently because his family could not pay the ransom.
The body of the 12-year-old boy was found in Grande Ravine on Saturday, four days after he had been kidnapped, the mission (known as MINUSTAH) reported today. He was the third child kidnapping victim to be killed this year.
UN Police (UNPOL) announced that a 10-year-old boy was kidnapped last week in a separate incident in the Martissant neighbourhood of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Massimo Toschi, a child protection adviser with MINUSTAH, told the UN News Centre that children are increasingly the favoured kidnapping target of criminal gangs, especially in Port-au-Prince and the northern city of Cap-Haïtien.
The latest statistics indicate that 69 children have been kidnapped this year, with over four months remaining, compared to 80 for all of 2007. Around half of all victims are now children, Mr. Toschi added.
The kidnappers are also becoming more vicious and depraved in their attacks, he noted, with child victims often tortured, and some killed despite their family paying part or all of the demanded ransom. Girls, who account for almost half of all under-age victims, are frequently raped or sexually abused.
Mr. Toschi said criminal gangs tend to abduct children on their way to or from school, choosing victims from both affluent and poor families with the expectation that even families with little money will be able to draw from the Haitian diaspora to pay the ransom.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and kidnappers can demand as much as $25,000 for the return of a child, compared to the roughly $200 a month that they could earn in many regular jobs.
“Kidnapping is a business,” Mr. Toschi said, noting that public awareness campaigns have had more success in tackling the problems of sexual violence and “restavek,” or the local term for the practice of using children as slave labour. “The authors of kidnappings are not the same as those of restavek.”
He said MINUSTAH is considering introducing a quick impact project that would provide psychological counselling and support to kidnapping victims and their families.
But the adviser stressed that the mission’s ongoing efforts to improve security and establish the rule of law across the country, working alongside the military and Haitian National Police, would have the greatest effect on curbing kidnappings.
He said the overall recent improvement in security had actually worked to reduce the number of adult kidnappings, and may have led criminal gangs to target children more.
“Why such an atrocity against children all the time?” he asked, referring to the killing of the boy at Grande Ravine. “If you kill anyone, you are killing a human being. No one should be killed. But the kidnapping victims [who have been] killed have all been children.”
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that child kidnappings are on the rise in several countries affected by violence – including Haiti where more than 50 children have been abducted so far this year – and are often carried out with impunity.