Young Haitian girls sexually exploited in the Dominican Republic
Trafficking, sexual exploitation of Haitian children in the Dominican Republic on the rise.
BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic -- After several days of going hungry, Marie said she surrendered to sexual propositions made by several men in the park where she begged in this resort town in the south of the Dominican Republic.
Marie, 12, said she had sex with ``many'' of those men, sometimes for a dollar, while her cousins, 13 and 10, begged European and American tourists for coins.
``I was hungry, I lost everything; we didn't know what to do,'' said Marie, explaining her decision to sell her body on the streets of Boca Chica.
The three children told reporters from El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald that they left Port-au-Prince with the help of a smuggler after the January earthquake devastated the city.
Today, the children sell boiled eggs for 10 cents all day, walking in the sun along Duarte Avenue, a bustling runway for juvenile prostitution in the heart of Boca Chica, where newly arrived Haitian girls sashay, offering their bodies to gray-haired tourists.
The story of Marie and her cousins has become commonplace: Since the earthquake more than 7,300 boys and girls have been smuggled out of their homeland to the Dominican Republic by traffickers profiting on the hunger and desperation of Haitian children, and their families. In 2009, the figure was 950, according to one human rights group that monitors child trafficking at 10 border points.
Several smugglers told the newspaper that they operate in cahoots with crooked officers in both countries -- their versions verified by a United Nations Children's Fund UNICEF report and child advocates on both sides of the border.
``All the officials know who the traffickers are, but don't report them. It is a problem that is not going to end because the authorities' sources of income would dry up,'' said Regino Martínez, a Jesuit priest and director of the Border Solidarity Foundation in Dajabón, a Dominican border town.
Martínez has denounced the problem from the pulpit, to community groups and to the heads of CESFRONT, the Dominican Republic's Specialized Corps for Borderland Security.
Leaders in both nations, following the catastrophic earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 people, pledged to protect children from predatory smuggling, a historic problem.
And the problem became an international scandal after a church group from Idaho tried to bring 33 children from Haiti to an orphanage it was establishing in the Dominican Republic. Yet one month later, without headlines, smugglers moved 1,411 children out of the country, according to one child protection group in Haiti.
The newspaper found that the trafficking of children remains, with reporters witnessing smugglers carrying children across a river, handing them to other adults, who put the kids on motorcycles and speed off to shanty towns. Border guards, charged with preventing this very operation, witnessed the incidents and never reacted, the reporters found.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive acknowledged that there has been a lack of political will to tighten the porous 230-mile border between the nations, which he called a ``no man's land and an opening for bigger trafficking.''
``There is not one person who feels they have an interest in controlling the frontier,'' Bellerive told The Miami Herald. ``There are people on the Haitian side who are profiting because they are the ones who organize the trafficking. The same on the Dominican side.'
A joint investigation by El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald exposes how the trafficking of Haitian children has risen since the January earthquake. The series shows how boys and girls end up in prostitution, shoe-shining, street-begging, window-washing -- with the proceeds often going to adults who give them housing and food.
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