As commentator Andrea Powell notes, there's been broad media coverage of the increased dangers of being sold into modern day slavery that many Haitian children face but the problem also exists in our own backyard.
Powell is Executive Director of the Washington D.C.-based FAIR Fund
The lack of security, unmet needs, families torn part, and a largely powerless government have created a breeding ground for the buying and selling of children in Haiti but it's important to recognize the few rays of light that point toward hope.
For example, the case of the Americans taking Haitian children across the border to the Dominican Republic. They were stopped. Dominican Republic border guards rightfully investigated.
The children were not immediately returned to their parents, but were taken to a well-known international aid orphanage, the SOS Kinderdorf. The children and their families may not have seen this as a positive thing, but it speaks to the organization and dedication of the country to protect children from being sold into slavery or trafficked across borders. But there is a deep-rooted history of child-slavery in Haiti.
A FAIR Fund advisor and world-renowned author, Benjamin Skinner, reports that even before the earthquake, 300,000 Haitian children were enslaved as "restavaks" or "stay withs" to provide domestic labor. In fact, child slavery has long been hidden in plain sight. As the lowest form of labor in Haiti, many of these children end up on the streets in early adolescence exploited through prostitution, which often results in death.
Traffickers prey on the vulnerability and desperation of others. Who are more vulnerable than children who have lost their families, or families who feel incapable of providing basic needs for their children?
What Haitian children need are dedicated and trained professional advocates who work with orphanages, children’s homes, and families to better understand how to evaluate potential trafficking situations.
And it’s not just Haitian children who are at risk. During the past six years, FAIR Fund has assisted more than 200 youth vulnerable to trafficking, some of whom are teenagers right here in Washington, D.C.
They too are lost, without supportive families, going nights without food, looking for a safer place. Those who pretend to offer them a “better life” are also exploiting them. FAIR Fund is working here with our partners, including law enforcement, to identify and assist these youth.
Of the 850 teens FAIR Fund educated about human trafficking in 2008, more than 50 percent reported knowing another teen being exploited through prostitution. But, in 2008, only 35 cases of child sexual exploitation were identified by D.C. authorities.
We need more efforts to identify and assist our most vulnerable teens because a child is a child and exploitation is exploitation.
I'm Andrea Powell.