Monday, March 12, 2007
John A. Carroll, MD
On Tuesday of last week (December, 2006) my wife and I looked up when we heard a low rumbling chop-chop sound and saw a circling white UN helicopter over one of the major slums in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The pilot continued this maneuver for an hour. Obviously he was looking for activity on the ground. We now know what he was searching for.
There has been a string of child abductions in Port-au-Prince. Gunmen abducted at least 12 children in and around Port-au-Prince last week. Approximately 100 adults and children have been kidnapped in November, and another 60 already in December. During the past year, more kidnappings have occurred in Haiti than in any country in the western hemsisphere.
What has everyone’s attention in Haiti is that children are now being targeted. Many of the kids are released unharmed, but a six year old boy was recently abducted in the capital and taken to a large northern city and shot.
“Snatch teams” work in the city. They abduct adults by boxing in their vehicle in traffic and heavily armed thugs grab them. The victims are then transported to one of the local slums where gangs move the abducted around and make ransom phone calls from the ubiquitous cell phones which many people carry. Sometimes the abducted person is moved to another gang. Unless you live in the slum or are a gang member, no one can enter the slum safely, including the Haitian National Police or the 9,000 UN soldiers in Haiti.
Last week, at several schools in the capital, men would show up after school was let out saying they were the child’s guardian and that they were there to walk the child home. They have shown false ID’s and stolen the child. In an incident that made international news, a vehicle with seven children inside was hijacked by armed thugs just north of Port-au-Prince, and the kids taken. (All the children were released unharmed several days later.)
Several days ago a spokesman for the United Nations police force in Haiti said, “Now the kidnappers target children because they know the children are our hearts. They want to hit us in the heart so they can get the money more rapidly.”
The residents of the capital are even helping police in door-to-door searches for the missing children. Fear of kidnapping has led many schools in the capital to close until after the Christmas holidays. The number of children in their school uniforms, laughing and talking with each other while they walk down the sidewalks to or from school, has decreased.
Haiti’s infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the world, most Haitian kids do not get enough to eat, suffer parasites, lack primary medical care, and carry heavy loads of water on their heads. When you think that Haiti’s children could not suffer any more injustice, you find out that you were wrong. They start kidnapping them.
John A. Carroll, M.D.