In Haiti’s unstable post-quake atmosphere, at least one industry is poised to flourish. For those who buy and sell children for sex and cheap labor, Haiti is ripe with opportunity.
When the earthquake struck the impoverished island country last Tuesday afternoon, human traffickers suddenly gained access to a new population of displaced children. With parents dead, government offices demolished, and international aid organizations struggling to meet life-or-death demands, these kidnappers are in a unique position to snatch children with very little interference.
In today’s world, the twin causes of human slavery—poverty and vulnerability—increase exponentially after natural disasters. When the tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004, trafficking gangs moved quickly, seizing children and selling them as prostitutes in nearby Malaysia and Jakarta. In 2008, after floods devastated the Indian state of Bihar, groups of children were lured out of relief camps and sold to brothels across the nation.
I’ve seen many such stories up close. For the past three years, I’ve worked in India for International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights agency with twelve offices around the world. Rescuing victims of slavery and sexual exploitation are our specialties, and natural disasters unfailingly bring us new business. One of my first cases dealt with a widowed mother and her six children who had been trafficked after a drought destroyed their livelihood. A local kiln owner, who was in the business of offering good jobs to drought-affected villagers, had approached them with an opportunity. The desperate widow took the bait and found herself and her children forced into slavery at a brick kiln with no hope of escape. The widow was subjected to violent physical abuse and raped repeatedly by the owner and his cronies.