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Haiti's Children Still Face Problems

  • Jennifer Glasse

UNICEF's head of child protection says nearly three months after the earthquake that devastated the country, many challenges remain for children in Haiti.

Even before the January earthquake that devastated the tiny Caribbean nation of Haiti, the country's children were living in difficult circumstances.

Child Protection official, Aaron Greenberg, of the U.N. children's agency says the statistics are shocking.

"Estimates of 50,000 children, prior to the earthquake, in residential care," Greenberg said. "In orphanages or residential care, not only the numbers, but the degree of un-regulation, the lack of regulation of those services."

Greenberg says the children in Haitian orphanages were not necessarily orphans - defined as a child who had lost one or both parents. He says poverty is the main reason so many children were in care.

"Families who have very little options in terms of services in the community will see an orphanage as a way of providing food, a way of providing health care to their children. Possibly even education, so it is not necessarily a lack of adequate family care, but perhaps lack of resources at community level," Greenberg said.

UNICEF's Child Protection chief Susan Bissell says child trafficking is an increasing problem.

"Trafficking was a problem before the earthquake and it is an ongoing concern right now," Bissell said. "We know that traffickers fish in pools of vulnerability and mobility and we have got lots of vulnerability and mobility right now."

Bissell says UNICEF's ultimate goal is to find a place for each child.

"One has to really seriously look at, 'How do we insure that every child in Haiti has a permanent family arrangement in which they remain so they are not in institutions?' And maybe that family is their own family, maybe it is extended family, maybe it is a permanent fostering arrangement that is monitored and maybe ultimately it is inter-country adoption. There are lots of permanent family arrangements for children," Bissell said.

Bissell says there has been progress with more systems in place to support children, but she says the weather is a looming challenge.

The rainy season usually starts in May, and can be accompanied by hurricanes. With much of the earthquake affected population living outside or in makeshift accommodation, she says that could cause problems with health and hygiene, sanitation, contaminate drinking water, and spread communicable diseases.

But UNICEF's Greenberg, the crisis has also brought opportunity.

"The amount of money that pours into a small country like Haiti, post crisis, can be channeled to issues that existed pre-crisis," Greenberg said. "So not only are you assisting those families and children who are directly affected, but you are also helping to transform the way Haiti was dealing with the issue prior to the crisis."

UNICEF officials emphasize protecting the country's children is complex and will take a long-term investment of human and financial resources.

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