Haiti’s Disasters: The Laments of Girl Survivors

“Seven years gone by, but I still feel the earth shaking beneath me; but more do I feel the pain of exploitation”.

This is not my story alone, but of many more young and old from my country Haiti, an Island where Christopher Columbus arrived at the time he discovered the New World, and later mentioned “They are the best people in the world and above all the gentlest. All the people show the most singular loving behaviour and they speak pleasantly. They love their neighbours as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing.” [Quoted from: The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, 1992]

The island that Columbus saw as paradise has been facing number of disastrous situations during the past history, of which the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince was the worst that took away thousands of lives of the ‘gentlest and loving’ people, and damaged many more millions [As estimated by IFRC: 3 million affected and 230,000 dead].

Among these thousands of dead, lies my own family. And among the millions affected, I am one. I am a survivor of the 2010 earthquake, a survivor who was badly injured, and later faced the consequences of being a seventeen year old teen aged girl living in an insecure shelter with no one to protect from the vile and evil. So I was caught into the snares of men, who handled me as they pleased, as how a lion would pounce on its prey. I was then silent, as I was then helpless. But later I realized that silence was not going to heal me. Silence was not going to take away my memories from the effects of the earthquake – both mental and physical. I had witnessed many girls taken through the same path that I was forced to trod. If I don’t speak up, then who would for me, I thought. I began a new journey. I call myself Claire, and I use my voice through API to share stories from Haiti.

The first nation in Latin America to receive independence, Haiti was a habitat to the Taino indigenous population, who were later killed by different migrants from other countries. The Haitians today believe that the natural hazards and outbreaks of diseases that has inflicted them are the causes of the execution of the natives. Haiti comprises of 11.11 million people today.

The poorest country in the western hemisphere with 65% living below the poverty line, Haiti is one of the poorest in the world, that takes the place of 149 in the HDI [UN-HDI]. Being the third country to face hunger due to a low day income [78% live on less than $2 per day], the life expectancy of Haiti is 53 years for females and 55 for males. The rich population amounts to 1% and they control almost half the of the country’s wealth.

Not enough that the country’s poor had numerous troubles to face, the earthquake of 2010 increased their sufferings, leaving them lifeless, homeless, money-less and most of all less secured. With lack of policies in place, authorities not heeding to national and international laws, affects the country’s people, mainly the young women and children who are always the victims of such instances.

In Haiti, sexual exploitation of children, and sexual violence on young girls and women have become a threat, with data showing 50% of girls raped and more than 3rd of the girls under 15 years sexually abused.

As defined in the Stockholm Declaration and Agenda for Action that was adopted during the First World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (1996), and likewise used at the Second World Congress held in Yokohama five years later in 2001, a sexual exploiter is ‘who unjustly profits from a certain disequilibrium of power between himself and a person less than 18 years of age in the hope of sexually exploiting that person either for profit or for personal pleasure’.

Haiti’s earthquake was a natural phenomenon; yet what the young girls and children faced afterwards was unnatural. Humanity is always tested during difficult times. That is what happened in Port-au-Prince, when many young children witnessed inhumanity in the humans who controlled the thousands of scattered tents which gave temporary shelter to large numbers affected by the earthquake.

Inside these shelters, so much took place: hunger, sickness, death, birth, coming of age, sexual involvements, and most of all sexual harassment and exploitation.

Thirteen year old Ana [not her real name], was raped when she went to use the toilets that were away from the shelters. After losing her father, and two sisters in the earthquake, Ana had to take care of many things – including her mother and 2 years young brother. “I thought he was a good man and so I let him stay out until I finished in the toilet. I thought I would be safe.” When Ana told her mother what had happened, her mother ordered her to keep it a secret. Her mother knew that they were frail before the powerful men, and the unlawful authorities. Her mother’s silence made the perpetrator to continue his evil acts on Ana for some months. I still remember the words of Ana from then, “I am forced to this, if not he will stop our rations he said.”

Young girls and children were the worst victims of the disaster, as they were innocent and powerless. Their words were not heard by their own families.

Lovelie [not her real name], was another little playful girl of 5, who would come to me those days asking me to narrate stories. Lovelie was a lovely girl, but her fate was not lovely. Lovelie who had been living with her mother and step-father, lost her mother during the disaster. And to her the evil was in the form of her own step-father. He, who should have protected her, molested and exploited her sexually. Being very young Lovelie did not know what was happening to her, until one day her step-father was caught during the incident by another woman from a shelter. Lovelie was taken away from her father. But due to her young age, malnutrition, and continuous sex, the girl’s health condition became serious. Before an year passed by, Lovelie passed away.

I remember being happy the day Lovelie died. I thought that Lovelie was lucky to die, and be freed from all danger. I heard stories of many other young girls and children facing such cruelty from different people. Yet, men cannot be blamed for alone for these acts. It is also the women who have knowingly or unknowingly placed their girl children in that situation. Roseline [not her real name], who was 9 years, was left by her elder sister at an insecure came for children, without anyone to care for her. Roseline’s sister wanted to care for her own children and refused to take care of her orphan young sister.

Disasters in Haiti have not only worsened the levels of poverty, economy, education, health and security, it has also brought in cruelty and unkind acts amongst the people, and who suffer most is the future generation.

The laws of Haiti are not strong. Especially the law on the protection of children against sexual abuse is unclear. According to law if a person under 21 years is assaulted, or caused to have sexual activity, the perpetrator will be punished for 6 months to 2 years through imprisonment [Criminal Code, art. 182 par. 1]. And if the perpetrator is a parent or caretaker of the victim, the imprisonment will be 1 – 3 years. Under the Criminal Code of Haiti, though rape is considered a crime, it is not taken as a serious crime and no court trial is required, as rape is regarded as a crime against morality.

This leaves the perpetrators of rape to bribe victims financially and continue to commit the crime. In Haiti about 10,000 children are victims of sexual exploitation. But as this is a hidden subject, many of the cases go unreported. According to the Centre of Popular Education, 70% of Haiti’s street girls have been victims of this form of violence.

Children being more vulnerable than adults to the effects of violence with low capacity to understand harmful situations, they tend to be far more affected by calamities that gripped Haiti.

Even though Haiti had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995, Haiti fails extremely to act by the international obligations stated in the convention. Article 19:1 of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly says:

“States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child”.

Claire Jorcelan | Haiti