“My name is Bertha. I was very young when I began my life on the streets. I wandered all over town looking for a better life and freedom. I have had three children in the streets for three different fathers. One is dead, a little girl. The parents of the father of Alain, the eldest child, have taken charge of him since the death of their son. Jean, who is only one month old, lives with me. To live in the streets is difficult, even when you’re alone. With a child it is much harder. Since Jean’s birth, I stopped all my activities. I wait till he turns three months before I return to the streets to continue surviving.”
This is the testimony of a street girl in Cap-Haitien, the second city of Haiti located at 252 kilometers North of the capital.
She is better known by her nickname “Set dwet” (7 fingers) because of a birth handicap, she said.
Presently, Bertha lives in the dormitory of Lescot City, one of the city’s slum areas. Her child and she live together with rats in the vicinity of an open-air septic pit surrounded by all sort of waste in a space of two square meters. The dormitory is shared with other persons.
In a corner of her refuge, demarcated by a piece of cloth, the frail and visibly sick body of her son Jean lies on a pile of rags
An bench and some darkened cans form the decoration of the place. “Set dwet” excuses to the visitors but this is all she owns, she admitted. Jean got an opaque spot on his eyes. A doctor from Hospital Justinien, the main health center in the region gave him the sample of a medicine she should buy to treat the disease, but she does not have the money, she has explained.
Bertha must be in her twenties but she cannot confirm it. She’s the most senior member of the street girl in Cap-Haitien with some 20 years of experience in this field. She knows all the other girls. They must be less than a dozen presently who live in this situation according to her.
Some of them prefer to avoid the hell they have discovered there. Some others have given in cohabitation with partners or abandoned for good their style of life to the wish of a parent.
In fact, the problems related to their status and their way of organizing things (less controlled than the boys) make their situation even more complicated.
Besides being the targets for extended and arbitrary imprisonments, delinquence (thefts, drugs) and prostitution, they are often violated, beaten by street boys and other men who seek to abuse them.
Due to the desperation of their situation, many have chosen to return to their home villages meanwhile some other persevere, explains Barthelemy Joel Marc Amedee who has worked for the NGO “ Enfants du Monde” in the north region.
This would explain the decline in street girls in the city since the latest studies financed by UNICEF, Save the Children Canada (SCC), realized in 1999 by Martine Bernier and Dr Francoise Pontique.
The travels to other places of interest like the saint day at certain period of the year are identified as potential source of income that would have contributed also to their decline.
“ Natacha, Huguette, Mamaille, Nadege, Dieudonne, Jessie and I sleep sometimes in front of the office of delegation Nord (on the Arms places), at street 18, inside the public market or behind the church of Sacre-Coeur.
“The girl and Dieudonne particularly are violated there and we decided to move. I am not afraid of men. They leave me alone. When I want I sleep with them for some money and it ends there. I have never used condoms, but I hear the other girls talking about them, they must know something (…). Surely, I would not like to contract AIDS because it kills. I prefer to live in spite of my misery.
“ I nearly do not see the girls. I was told Dieudonne is imprisoned for theft in Limonade. Huguette is ill, I ignore where she is. Natacha is pregnant. Mamaille was taken in charged an returned to her aunt’s. I have an uncle. He lives in street zero and helps me often with the baby. Jean’s father is in bad faith, he does not bring us any food for day. He’s a porter.
“Alain my oldest son is now 6. I visit him sometimes at the relatives of his father who died of a high blood pressure. He was a good guy and not a street boy.”
Bertha recalls : “ Before moving into the streets, I used to live at a man’s house called Boutros. He had a grocery on the public market place. He would take care of me and send me to school. He has never mistreated me but my dad came for me. He drank often, he could not take care of me and beat me constantly.
“Upon his death, my older sister kicked me out and sold the house he left. I have first taken the street to beg, then I take the habit to stay there. I wish I could have an appropriate place to live now, but I have no money”, she says.
According to available figures in May 2001, nearly a hundred children and teenagers(of both sex) between 6-22 are living exclusively into the streets of Cap-Haitien. Many of the boys go back and forth between the street and the project Pierre Toussaint, a home that provides assistance to the street children.