By Aminda Marques Gonzalez
Jacqueline Charles and Gerardo Reyes arrived at the river crossing that divides Haiti and the Dominican Republic and started asking one question: How can we get a child? A half hour later, a man returned with an offer.
“He told us about a 15-year-old girl that he had at home that he was willing to sell,” said Charles, The Herald’s bureau chief in Haiti. “He said, ‘She is a good cook. She’s a very nice girl. She can clean. She’s very good.’ ”
The price was negotiable. How about $80?
“I wish I could say it was difficult,” said Reyes, investigative reporter for El Nuevo Herald. “But within 30 minutes, we had two guys offering us children.”
In a joint project between El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald, Charles and Reyes spent several weeks in both countries tracking the burgeoning child-smuggling trade fueled by the post-quake desperation in Haiti.
On today’s front page, you’ll find the first of a three-part series on this latest wave of exploitation that takes place with the complicity of both governments and the international community. Existing treaties are not enforced. A couple of dollars is all it takes for border patrol to look the other way. Meanwhile, children as young as 3 are imported into a life of begging and prostitution – for the monetary benefit of their handlers.
The second installment, which will explore the corruption on the border that facilitates the trafficking, will run on Wednesday. And the final chapter offers a glimpse of hope with a look at the private, non-profit groups trying to help the children of the streets.
Why would a parent set their children on such a path? Hopelessness is the answer, Charles said.
Desperate Haitian parents, unable to provide for their children in the best of times, are lured by the promise of a better life for their children. They are told that they’ll be able to go to school and eat regular meals – in exchange for doing small chores.
“The most difficult part is the sheer heartbreak,” Charles said. “At the end of the day these parents are not sending their children to the Dominican Republic to be prostitutes, to be house slaves, to be shoe-shine boys. In their minds, it’s always this idea that they are going to send their kids to a better life. Then they cross into this foreign land and they are invisible – they are black and they are Haitian.”
A RECORD OF THE DEAD
An estimated 300,000 people were killed in the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. Yet there is no official record, no list of the dead. As the anniversary of the disaster approaches, The Miami Herald has launched an effort to try to collect the names of as many victims as possible. We have created an online database where users can input the names of those who died in the earthquake and upload photos or write messages in their honor.
Nancy San Martin, the editor leading the effort, said we are trying to gather the names of the deceased here and in Haiti in an effort to help bring closure to grieving relatives and friends. You can find the database at MiamiHerald.com/haiti/memorial.