THE SITUATION OF HAITI’S STREET CHILDREN 1:DIAGNOSIS OF A LARGE- SCALE PROBLEM

 

Briefing on Haiti, No 8, December 2002

THE SITUATION OF HAITI’S STREET CHILDREN 1:DIAGNOSIS OF A LARGE- SCALE PROBLEM

By: Nicole Siméon, Journalist

They are about 100 million throughout the world, among whom at least 40 million in Latin America.  In Haiti, the phenomenon of street children forms a real social challenge.  Seen initially in the second half of 1980s, the present magnitude of the issue brings up many questions.  From the few street children noticed during the 1970s, their number has gone up considerably.

People who work for the reintegration of street children agree that the reasons that street children are nowadays so massively present, are complex. 

 “The worsening of socioeconomic conditions, the increasing pauperization of the country and the unremitting rural exodus are the main factors causing an increase in the number of street children,” the Report on the follow up to the application of the Convention on Child Rights, published by the Ministry of Social Affairs in November 2000, indicates.

The number of street children: a Gordian knot for social workers

In the absence of a real census and reliable statistics, in order to estimate the population of street children, we must refer to either invalid inquiries, contradictory figures, or catastrophic projections.

According to a study carried out by the Research Centre for Human Resources (Centre de Recherche des Ressources Humaines -CDRH) in 1991 under the auspices of UNICEF and the Institute for Social Well-being and Research (Institut du Bien-Etre Social et de Recherches -IBESR), the figures for street children were about one hundred for the towns of Cap-Haitian and Cayes and two thousand for Port-au-Prince.  The projections of CDRH for the year 2000 show an increase to about 50,000 taking into account the over-all deterioration of the country.

In a survey carried out in 1998, Martine Bernier and Dr Françoise Ponticq admit the impact of poverty on the street children phenomenon and estimate the population of street children to be about 8,000 souls.

In 1996 in a survey on the consequences of the embargo, the former Minister of Social Affairs, Ms. Mathilde Flambert, estimates that number to be 10,000.  Frantz Lofficial of the street kids centre Lakay on the other hand expresses his reserve on these figures.  He thinks that in reality none of these estimates and projections are accurate.

Following a survey carried out in 1998[2], M Lofficial asserts that the number of street children for the metropolitan area is not more than 1,000.  He strongly refutes the figures which are currently used.

Thus, are we dealing with farfetched numbers which have nothing to do with reality?  Can we believe a possible regression of this number in spite of the deterioration of socio-political and economic factors?  Should we ask ourselves whether the work done by street children reception centres have born fruit on this scale, in spite of their numerous financial difficulties?  There are many questions and only an immediate inquiry on this can provide responses.

Street boys and girls

Social workers specialized in street child issues, particularly Frantz Lofficial, notice a fundamental difference between two groups of children in the street.  The first group, entitled “street children,” is composed of children who have their household in the street, in short who live there.  They find food and shelter on the street and do not keep in touch with their families.  They sleep in the street at night, in public places, in front of churches, in front of stores and lottery shops, on markets, and so on.

The second group, called “children in the streets” is larger than the first one.  This group consists of children who spend their days in the street, working there like the first group, but as night falls, more or less regularly they go home.  More often than not they live with a family and they contribute their day’s earnings to this family to assist in its economic survival.

Generally, street children are boys; girls have always been in the minority.  However, social workers say that they notice a perceptible increase of this minority.

In their report, Françoise Ponticq and Martine Bernier estimate the number of street girls at eighteen percent (18%) of the number of street children in the metropolitan area[3], while the big provincial towns practically lack them.  Only some were seen in Cayes, a town in the South of Haiti.  In Cap-Haitien in the North, they notice about a dozen and in Jacmel in the South-East, none are seen.

Other published reports on street children are practically silent on the subject of girls, except for saying that this is a very complex group.  Nevertheless, the Centre of Family Assistance (Centre d’Appui Familial -CAFA), a NGO which exclusively works on street girl issues, in 1996 estimated the number of street girls in Port-au-Prince at 150.  Upto now, this estimate is the only existing reference.  A survey is to be set up shortly by CAFA on  the actual situation of street girls, we have learnt.

The number of street girls in Cap-Haitian varies from one time to another, based on economic opportunities.  So, during parish or rural festivals there are many more girls in the streets than usual, according to social workers.  Without doubt, this situation distorts any validation of their real number.

“Generally, the girls in the streets are brought there by their precarious economic situation, and the country feasts offer them the possibility to find more people to beg from, taking advantage of the generosity of people desiring to repent.  Many of them go home after these days of work.  These are the ones who do not live exclusively on the street, as is the case for many boys.  Nevertheless, others stay there,” Margarette Joseph explained, a social worker with Project Pierre Toussaint in Cap-Haitian .

According to Ms. Joseph, the few girls who make the street their home, are for security reasons very mobile.  It is difficult to impose themselves into a “boys environment,” and they are often beaten and raped.

Definition and source of the problem

In the course of numerous activities, governmental, religious, non-governmental, charitable, local as well as international organizations, intergovernmental coalitions and other independent professionals working in the struggle for children rights in Haiti, classified a category of childhood under the suggestive concept: “Children in Specially Difficult Circumstances.”

The IBESR/UNICEF definition
 The child in an especially difficult situation is a minor (girl or boy) who lives in particular conditions on the fringe of norms generally known and accepted by the society, and who is exposed to all sorts of physical or emotional violence, which can harm his psychosomatic development and even create, in certain cases, some attitudes and antisocial behaviours.

Street children figure prominently in this category.  The period when a street child was considered to be an isolated element, independent from all socio-economic systems, has passed.

Nowadays, children take to the streets to find a way of survival, an escape to poverty and humiliation.

“Girls or boys, they run away from violent intra- or extra-family situations.  They also take to the street because their parents cannot provide for their needs, or because they have become orphans, among other things orphans of AIDS,” Ms. Maryse Guimond of Save the Children – Canada, states.

Many of them living in the streets, particularly girls, have run away.  Such a decision requires courage, in view of the fact that “the child which runs away is afraid of street life as much as it is afraid of its immediate situation, but it ventures to change it,” Dr. Nadine Burdet tells, a child-psychiatrist at “Escale”, a reception, training and rehabilitation centre for abused children and those in domestic servitude.

These children have abandoned their host families to flee from the psychological, physical and sexual abuse of which they are a continuous victim; or even the area where they live, to get away from the violence.  They are attracted by the freedom which street life offers them.

Danise (22 years old) tells that she lived in Cité Soleil (a shanty town in the North-West of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, well known for murderous confrontations).  “There were always inter-gang armed fights there, the young girls who lived in this or that part were often raped by the men of the opposing gang, as a way of reprisals.  Several of my friends were taken.  I didn’t want to be subjected to that, so I went to town”.

That’s how this girl, which today is being “reintegrated” by the Centre for Family Assistance (CAFA), became a street girl.  She spent a number of years on the street before benefiting from care.

Other children become street child of their own free will because they let themselves be attracted by city life and by the euphoria of their friends who are already in the streets, Ms. Guimond pointed out.  This is the case for Léonne (18 years), another girl at CAFA.  “I went to the street because a friend of mine, who lived there, convinced me.  Before that, I used to sell in street with my mother.  But when Mamoune proposed me to follow her, I quickly accepted.  That’s how my first street experience started.”

As the report 2000 of UNFPA remarks : “Many Haitians leave the countryside to seek a better future in the towns, especially in the capital.”  But: “Not much official data document this internal migration.  However, the rapid growth of shanty towns gives the impression that the urbanization of the country goes quickly and anarchically,” this same report pursues.

An increase which worsens an already difficult situation and changes the magnitude of the problem in general.

Arrival in street: a long process 

“Poverty combined with lack of privacy is one of the main factors which can encourage children to take to the street,” Dr. Legrand Bijoux, a neuro-psychiatrist, says.

According to this practitioner, the lack of space, a main characteristic of shanty towns, harms the moral, physical and intellectual development of the child.  Responding to the natural need for development at this stage of growth, the child begins to run away from the confining space.  It will follow a long process before being definitively on the street.

“In the first phase, you will find him more often at the neighbour’s who has a greater space, and when that is not enough, he will go to the street,” Dr. Bijoux explains.  “At this stage, only space interests him.  Therefore, he is on the street to play, to make friends.  He spends his days there.  He may return home from time to time to sleep and to eat.  Subsequently, he begins to spend more time on the street, he finds there all kind of attractions.

“Generally living in a one-room house with numerous brothers and sisters, they make him sleep on the floor, under the bed or the table.  Sleeping for him is very difficult.

“He decides to join his day-friends who describe the benefits of sleeping under the stars to him.  Now he comes home just to eat.  But the truth is that the more than precarious economic situation may mean that he will not find anything.  He will go back to the street then, not really wanting it but being ‘obliged.’  Sometimes he may even find himself in a situation of economic independence which gives him the possibility to feed the rest of the family,” Doctor Bijoux indicates.

The case of the girls is often different.  As they grow up, they demand more attention, more care, and more money must be spent on them.  Around them, they are indirectly encouraged to prostitute themselves.  “If what I give you is not sufficient, then, manage on your own,” words which they hear repeatedly.

There are not enough free schools to attend and parents cannot afford to pay the education of many children.  This is another significant factor to take into account for explaining that so many children find themselves in streets, Dr. Bijoux pursues.

In 70% of the cases at “Escale”, the family of origin of the children counts more than 4 kids, and all are from rural areas or shanty towns.  According to data provided by the International Labour Organization (ILO), within the context of its International Programme for the Extermination of Child labour (BIT/IPEC) in Haiti, more than 500,000 children from 5 to 12 years old are not registered at school.  What are those children doing?

Domesticity : a factory producing street children

In 1984 the population of children living as domestic servants was estimated at 109,000 children.  Estimates fluctuate around 300,000 in 1998[4], which is an increase of nearly 200% in less than 20 years.  75% of these children are girls between 4 and 18 years old.  Nevertheless, we unofficially learnt that a study carried out by IPEC in collaboration with UNDP and UNICEF, in 2002 estimates the number of these children between 90,000 and 120,000.

The children in domesticity “lack care and are psychologically mistreated : humiliation, injustice, bullying, punishments, no consolation at all, no calm, little rest and leisure, a very small or a non-existent personal place, anxiety.  They experience the abuse of verbal and physical violence as well as sexual abuse,” Dr. Chantal Jörg, a Canadian ethno-psychologist, summarizes in a pilot-project of assistance to adolescents in difficult situations in Haiti, entitled “la Marelle.”

Most of the time, the host family doesn’t enjoy a comfortable level of life because of their low income.  The book “Analyse de la situation sanitaire (Analysis of the health situation) :  Haiti 1998″ states that most of these families have an income under 1200 Gourdes per month, the equivalent of $45 American dollars[5].  The result is that domestic children are the most often ill-fed and they rarely benefit from any medical attention.

Running away is the most common used manner of children to escape from situations of exploitation and violence.  Freeing themselves of the neo-slavery of the householder and often of violence and sexual abuse by the head of the family, hundreds of psychologically and physically deprived children find themselves one day or another in the street.

“As long as a child is victim to unequal treatment with relation to the householder’s own child, regarding eating, sleeping and dressing ¼ the child in domestic servitude endures it.  But when it is ill-treated, beaten and even raped, it ends up running away.  Usually not able on its own to find the parents, he or she remains in the street,” Dr. Bijoux has actually noticed.

To some extent, the flight causes a snowball effect with children in the same situation, because the one who left will praise the freedom that the street offers to the children still living in domestic servitude.  According to Ms. Marline Mondésir, the person in charge of the Support Centre for Development (CAD), a comprehensive reception centre for street children situated at Carrefour-Feuilles, the majority of the 24 girls hosted at the centre previously lived in domestic servitude, before finding themselves on the street.

Many children tell that they ran away after a beating.  At average, 4 children out of 5 testify that they were beaten.  They turn out to weigh less than they are supposed to and they are undersized for their age,  Dr. Nadine Burdet of Escale states.

Prostitution : an inevitable passage for girls

Within the category of street children, girls form a particularly vulnerable group.  Most of them turn directly to prostitution,” Ms. Jessie Mathurin tells, one of the directors of the Popular Education Centre (Centre d’Education Populaire -CEP), an organization in Carrefour-Feuilles which works with street children.

Prostitution is caused by “the normalness of sexual intercourse and its earliness.”  Most of the time, social workers report cases of children who get deeply involved in  sexual practice even before their puberty.

To compensate for their particularly precarious socioeconomic situation or encouraged by the promiscuous environment, girls enter commercial sex with their friends of the streets and/or with older men, who do not necessarily display secure behaviour.

According to Ms. Kettlie Marseille, founder and leader of CAFA, “most of girls we welcome here, lead the life of a prostitute.  If one does not take this factor into account, every type of assistance is doomed to fail.  That’s why we have developed support methodologies adapted to their situation, their personality and their sex,” she explains.

However, we must admit that “the reasons which push children into streets are not the same now as it was in 1996,” Ms. Marseille tells.  “Now, we have children who do not have the problems inherent to children in difficult situations.  There are those among them with a normal family life and who attend school.  They go into the streets to prostitute themselves and after that they go back home,” she says, adding that the number of girls sleeping in the streets has gone up.

This is also the point of view of Ms. Jessie Mathurin of the Popular Education Centre (CEP), based in the community of Saint-Gerard, who adds: “We could say without any risk of being mistaken that now we have a population of street children in Haiti.”

She upholds that “The street children are not the same today.  They have much greater ambitions.  Ill-intentioned people take advantage of them and lead them to perpetrate reprehensible acts serving their horrific plans.” She indicates that “it is a reason to believe that the data have really changed; this must be taken into account in intervention programmes.”

According to an internal study carried out on a sample of 20 street girls surveyed by CAFA, prostitution networks expand in Port-au-Prince.   Thus the street girls are victims of pimps and paedophiles.  Though cases of boys who prostitute themselves are known too, there are no data which establish a figure or confirm that they depend on such networks.

“The prostitution by street girls expands in proportion to their increasing number,” the CAFA report specifies.

Victims of the inequality of gender and belittled in their values, girls cannot practise some of the street activities which are restricted to boys, such as polishing shoes, cleaning cars, loading the public transport buses, etc.  Apart from begging, they have not much alternative than to prostitute themselves.

Psychological portrait of a beginning street child

Street children are between 4 and 18 years old and in majority live in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince.  The first characteristic of a street child, according to Dr. Bijoux, is that generally speaking more than others, it is branded as a disadvantaged child.  Everybody (the public bus driver, the motorist, the passer-by, the merchant, the policeman and so on), makes him feel that he is “inferior,” and depreciates him.  He feels therefore unloved and not respected.  He is psychologically belittled.

The second characteristic, Dr. Bijoux pursues, is that the child is dismayed by a feeling of insecurity.  An insecurity which shows itself in all its forms.  He cannot eat when he is hungry and when he eats none of the hygienic conditions is respected, thus his health is endangered.  When he is sick, no one  will take care of him, no mechanism which permits him to benefit from free care in the hospitals.  He sleeps in the streets, at everybody’s mercy.  He is not protected in sexual intercourse.

In this regard we should notice the praiseworthy efforts of organizations and people who carry out relevant programmes, but their activities cannot take charge of all street children.

A third characteristic is despair.  The street child is hopeless, Dr. Bijoux explains.  This despair expresses itself through resignation.  He resigns himself, saying that nothing good will ever happen to him.  And in this state, anybody can take advantage of him.

“It is no coincidence that we find so many armed teenagers, who have become “zenglendo.” [6]  He tells himself that he has nothing to loose, the neuro-psychiatrist says.

The last characteristic is violence.  Still according to Dr. Bijoux, “violence is a pathology characterized by the conscious or unconscious wish to make others suffer what one suffered oneself.  A second variant of this violence is the complex of identifying with the attacker: the person who suffered the attack nourishes hope for taking vengeance one day and it is not important whoever is the victim.

The street child is more exposed to delinquency than anybody else.  His moral consciousness little by little crumbles.  A street child confides “I have no one telling me what I can do or not.”

These children have no models.  Delinquency expresses itself little by little; in the beginning it is only thefts, then they start to sniff “thinner”[7]  until this is no more sufficient.  The moment for hard drugs can come and for armed attacks.

“Violence calls up more violence; it is not surprizing that street children turn out violent,” Dr. Bijoux points out.

A not very reassuring environment

The only shelter of street children is the streets.  They are alone, homeless and without relations.  Some of them even don’t know where they come from, others don’t know their names.

Turning their back to their zone often to run away from a situation that they judge unbearable, these children no longer want to have relations and prefer to say that they have got no family or to admit that they don’t want to go back there.

“I was 2 years old when my father died,” little Jean says, a 12 year-old.  “I have henceforth been living in street.  My mother couldn’t afford to care for me, so I left the house.  I know that she has now another man in her life.  I no longer want to go back to their house, I am OK where I am.”

However in street, they are deprived of everything and live day to day, through developing protection and survival strategies which oscillate between distrust and violence.  They organize themselves, often in little groups (“cartels or bases”) and establish internal rules which everybody has to respect.

For example, the one who betrays a friend will in most cases be beaten, be ignored or in serious cases be expelled, Rony (17 years) tells.  He experienced this once when he incriminated a boy from his base for an attack on another base.  “I didn’t want to do that, but the other had threatened to kill me and I was afraid.”

In Port-au-Prince, from “La Saline” through boulevard Harry Truman (Bicentenaire), from the Iron Market to “Portail Léogâne,” street children are part of the daily scenery.  Although most live in little groups, others prefer to go it alone.  They use their time to wash or to wipe cars, to load public transport, to beg, to handle stolen goods or commit thefts in order to earn money.

The day’s earnings provide them with a meagre and often unhealthy sustenance.  At night in certain quarters (La Saline, road of Delmas, near Delmas 33, near Port-au-Prince’s cemetery, and so on), some of them take to prostitution.  These conditions added to lack of hygiene make them vulnerable to different types of viral and infectious diseases, and/or sexually transmittable infections.

Some children are abandoned and find themselves in the street because “their families cannot afford to feed them or meet their general needs,” Father Jean Claude Louisimond of the “Fondation Timoun se Lespwa” (Children is Hope Foundation), points out.  He also confides that some of the children at this Foundation were directly left with him by members of their families who cared for them in absence of their biological parents.

Poverty, a considerable springboard

“More than 100 million children in the world do not go to school because of poverty (¼)  Children are most harshly affected by poverty; they will bear the psychological and physical effects with them all their life,” the world report 2002 of UNICEF specifies.

In Guatemala, most of the children do not attend school for long periods, or not at all, because they have to work to help their families survive, the Casa Alianza web site states.  This level of poverty leads children to a street life to practice little jobs or offer their services for remuneration, which will enable them to survive.

In Haiti, the case of Davidson (8 years old) is a good example of this problem.  He sells a kit of razors on Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines (Grand-Rue) near “rue des Miracles.”  He tells that he has to work.  His mother is constantly in financial difficulties.  He does this job since his father started having other partners, and abandoned them during the summer vacation of 2001.

The bitter experience of the street
 Immacula (14 years old) left her house when she was 11 years old.  She points out that she could no longer put up with the sexual abuse which she suffered from the owner of the house and from the son of the lady of the house.  “What is more, I didn’t see why I worked so hard,” she said.  “I was always tired.”

 

“Since I was placed in this family  living at Delmas 2, I have not slept well,” she confides. “I did everything in the house, but it was never good and I always had to suffer the anger of the lady.”

 

Nowadays, she begs for a living around the Cathedral of Port-au-Prince, but sometimes, she does services for people in exchange for some money or a hot meal.  She tells that life isn’t easy for her.  “I am constantly harassed by others”, she says.

 

Immacula, who comes from Miragoane, tells that she regrets leaving her native town.  All the euphoria when arriving in Port-au-Prince disappeared, and she has lost all contact with her parents.  Often she thinks about returning to Miragoane, but she wonders if she will be able to find her family.

With the money of the razors, his mother takes part in a “sòl.”[8]   With three daughters, his mother lives at a friend’s in “Cité de l’Eternel.”  They had to leave their house because the owner had taken the roof away because of lateness in payment.  Davidson hopes that his mother will be able to rent another house with the money from the “sòl.”

The compulsory work of children is not limited to a physical exploitation which is sometimes beyond their capacity, but there is also sexual exploitation, most importantly paedophilia and pimping.  As far Haiti is concerned, although some organizations working on child labour or human rights mention it, there are no figures to prove that this practice is linked to poverty.

The need of survival obliges street children to accept anything to earn money.  Ill-intentioned people take advantage of these children, they give them weapons and they ask them to use these weapons for a little sum.  No one can forget the spectacular arrests of gangsters by the National Police of Haiti within the context of a zero tolerance policy.  Among them were children from 12 to 17 years old.

In a press release of 10 December 2002 in the scope of the commemoration of the 54th anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration, Ms. Justine Colas of the organization “Justice and Peace” tells that 7 street children under 18 years old had been executed in Port-au-Prince.  Additionally, in Cite Soleil, more than 50 others were injured by bullets in the same year.  She castigates the police institution for not having presented a report on these human rights violations.

Street children and STI/AIDS

One problem leads to another: “Young prostitutes are particularly exposed to viral and infectious diseases and to sexually transmitted infections (STI), but moreover to very early and repetitive pregnancies.”  Young girls, who constitute between 60 to 80% of children living as domestic servants, are also exposed to HIV/AIDS because of rapes committed by the men in the house.

To some extent, this increases the number of the children infected by HIV/AIDS in Haiti.  Consequently they become non-negligible propagators of this infection.  “Specific prevention programmes must target and train these vulnerable groups, and help them to adopt less risky behaviour,” a 1998 study on the impact of AIDS recommends.[9]

No well-known authority such as the GHESKIO Centres or the Haitian Institute of Childhood (IHE) could communicate figures to us regarding the prevalence of HIV among street children.

Out of the twenty girls at CAFA, who all had been tested, only three girls were HIV positive, and at present, the Centre has still not registered any new case, Ms. Marseille confides, adding that the reputation of people living with HIV/AIDS given to street children is not entirely founded.  However, she admits the incompatibility of this finding with the risky behaviour of these children.

On the contrary, the cases of syphilis, anaemia and vaginal infections are more common in both sexes.  Also in this case, a study at a national scale is a must.

The prison environment : witness of the disrespect of child rights

Dozens of children from 10 to 17 years old are rotting in the country’s prison centres in most degrading situations.  In defiance of Haitian legislation which forbids to keep a minor behind bars, children taken in for questioning because of minor or serious offences, do not always have the opportunity to see a judge able to decide their case.

Some children, taken to prison during police raids, are ill-treated and beaten by police officers.  Almost half the girls at CAFA, interviewed during the study, asserted that they have been incarcerated and two of them said that they were subjected to police violence.

In April 2002, the management of the prison authorities of the civil prison for women and minors (“Fort National”) had registered a total of 31 minors from 13 to 17, among which three (3) girls.

According to Ms. Joseph Marymagg Gracieux, Director of the prison, the majority of boys are street children.  They are there for armed robbery, rape and thefts.  “Since 1999, we haven’t had any sentenced person, and the children don’t know for how long they are there.  We find minors here who are accused of minor offences and have been here for at least 3 years, without any judgment, in spite of interventions by our legal assistants,” she says.

The children’s judge Emmanuel Lacroix acknowledges that he doesn’t know all the cases of incarcerated children and all unlawful acts haven’t been referred to the court for children.

During the judicial year 2000 – 2001, the court for children registered 20 cases of incarcerated children.  However, cases in provincial towns are not mentioned.

“As a rule, there is no law authorizing the incarceration of a child,” Judge Emmanuel Lacroix asserts.  He indicates that the law gives priority to the protection of minors in criminal cases and makes provision for free detention places for children on probation.  But between paper and reality, the gap is still enormous “because there are no specific facilities for children of this category,” Judge Lacroix says.

The law man indicates that during Duvalier’s regime, it was customary to take an arrested and judged child to the Reception Centre Duval Duvalier.  But this establishment no longer exists and has been replaced by Fort National or by police stations.

“Sometimes, I wonder whether children have really committed the crimes of which they are accused,” Ms. Gracieux confides, “since these children look so vulnerable!  Is prison the appropriate place to rehabilitate these kids?” she wonders.  For reasons of which we are not aware, a visit to the cells was forbidden to us and we couldn’t interview the children.

Reception Centres : not enough means

In the year 2000, the Institute of Social Well-being and Research (IBESR) communicated that they had registered more than 30 orphanages and reception centres throughout the country.  Meanwhile, some have been created and others have disappeared for lack of means, it is said.  Among the most well-known centres, there are: Foyer Lakay, Projet Pierre Toussaint (Cap-Haitian), Lafanmi se lavi, Timkatèk, CEP, CAFA, Escale, CAD, Timoun se Lespwa, etc.

Several people in charge of the reception centres bring up the problem of lack of funds: “We do not have sufficient resources to respond to the needs of the children,” they emphasize.  Centres still exist mostly thanks to rare grants from few non-governmental international organizations and irregular gifts from their benefactors.  An efficient financial support by the Haitian government is awaited.  “There is a great institutional void, while collaboration is essential for the survival of the reception centres and of more children,” a director of a reception centre states.

The centres cannot assume the heavy responsibility of rehabilitating all street children without a general policy headed by the government through which their activities will be reinforced.  If not, the phenomenon will only at a small-scale be lightened, never solved.

Some examples of interventions by reception centres

The reception and accommodation centres are charged with restoring the childhood to street children and assist them in becoming useful citizens in society.  Their aims are articulated around certain parameters in the field of social rehabilitation, schooling, professional training and the shaping of the personality.

We tried to put ourselves in their skin in order to understand them better.  Our way of working with them has considerably changed the population’s attitude toward them,” Foyer Pierre Toussaint.

According to several people in charge of the reception centres, training is envisaged around personal development interventions.  But more programmes which demand the personal contribution of the children should be set up in their interest and for the success of the interventions.

Following in Saint Jean Bosco’s footsteps, Father Atilo Stra founded Lakay in 1998, a centre which helps street children of both sexes to return to a normal life and to take their place in society.

While applying new intervention methodologies, Father Stra set up activities through which more than 400 street youth between 10 and 18 benefit from 5 projects dedicated to them.  Professional training in electricity, plumbing and cooling technology, in beauty care and dressmaking is given to the young people of the Lakou and Lakay centres.

The Development Support Centre (CAD), located in the quarter of Carrefour-Feuilles, works with about 150 children, among which 61 participate in the regular social reintegration programme.  Founded 9 years ago, CAD supports children with education, health care and a set of integrated activities which ensure their survival and development.  While not being able to assure their full professional education, they participate in informal education.

The “Timoun k’ap teke chans” (Timkatec) Centre (Children who try their luck to survive) in Petionville, managed by the Salesian priest Father Joseph Simon, counts about 80 boys, of which 40 live on the compound.  Since 6 years ago, children have been coming in from the streets.

Before, when they were between 12 and 16 years old, most of these children had fire arms, and they knew how to use them for “protecting themselves”, they said to the priest.  The working methodology of Timkatec is based on two pillars: education and professional training.  In this way, the child learns to be aware of his talents, his personality, nature’s beauty and of his real limits.

It’s with pride that Father Simon tells that 30 of his kids are placed in four garages where they learn auto mechanics.  Others, after obtaining their certificate for successfully finalizing primary school, are sent to the Salesian Brothers in downtown Port-au-Prince.

“It is fundamental to show children that one loves them and that one really wants to help them.  The rest goes automatically,” Father Simon of Timkatec.

 

Foyer Pierre Toussaint, located in Cap-Haitian, counts about 80 street boys of which 24 are in regular boarding.  Managed by two young Americans and a team of Haitian social workers, this centre first of all plays the role of guide for street children.

“Banishing every moralizing attitude, we accept the boys as they arrive, and little by little they tell about their situation, by assessing themselves (starting from instructions which are established in advance).  If no change takes place in them, they cannot develop in our structure,” Andrew Schulteis explains, one of the people in charge of this centre.

These children have the possibility to learn to read quickly thanks to an adaptation to the Montessori method based on their situation.  They have their football team and like other children, the most advanced ones attend the best schools in town.  Moreover, those who show inclination to renew their family ties, are strongly encouraged to do that.

Odney (22 years) has attended the Centre Lakay for 2 years.  Being found too old by the educator, he has not benefited from the complete care provided by the centre, as it does at present for 86 kids.  Nevertheless, in Lakou’s workshop at boulevard Harry Truman (Bicentenaire), he has learned to be an electrician.

In 1997, he left his house because of the bad treatment given to him by one of his uncles.  His father and mother are dead.  From fourth grade on, he never had a chance to continue his studies. 

On the street, he cleaned cars.  He is happy to attend Centre Lakay and to have learned a profession enabling him to earn a living.  Nevertheless, he laments the lack of follow-up to this.  “I sporadically work for private individuals.  After that it is unemployment.  I would very much like to find a workshop where I could work constantly,”  he says.

Throughout the Caribbean and Latin American region, there are similar activities assisting street children.  These ensure that there are alternatives to delinquency, to HIV/AIDS, to crime and death.  Casa Alianza is one of the most famous ones for having brought Guatemalan police officers before the courts for the murder of a twelve-year-old street boy.

The role of the Government is still ill-defined

“Investing in children simply is the best investment that a government can do,” the 2002 UNICEF world report states.

A lot of legislation to guarantee the respect of child rights is foreseen, and new arrangements are to be adopted envisaging the provision of care to children in difficult situations and the respect of the rights of every child without discrimination.  With great fanfare the government welcomed the Global Movement for Children in April 2001, but unfortunately many of the promised programmes are still lying in the desk drawers.

Providing care to street children is essentially ensured by non-governmental organizations (NGO) and private institutions.  Although the government has outlined a wish to act on children’s issues (it forwarded to parliament legislation against physical punishment of children, as well as appointed three judges for children in 2001), the only public reception centre of the country no longer exists and nothing has been done as yet on street children issues.  This situation is criticized in the Alternative Report on Child Rights, coordinated by the Haitian Coalition for the Protection of Child Rights (COHADDE), a grouping of about 30 organizations working for the respect of child rights in Haiti.

How do children see the activities of the centres?

The open and/or restricted social rehabilitation centres, as well as the orphanages provide children on a more or less regular basis with food, education, primary health care, professional training and in many cases lodging.  The children who were interviewed say that they appreciate the work done for them by these centres.  Some of them say goodbye to their roaming lifestyle while others prefer to enjoy a centre’s assistance in day-time but to return to their street life at night.

“I am too old for the care provided by child centres, but if it weren’t for Lakay’s assistance, I would still be in the street.  The managers have rented a house in “Cité de l’Eternel” (a populous quarter of Martissant) where other children in difficulty and I live,” Odney, met at Father Stra’s project, recognizes.

“Because of the fact that I attend the centre, I take more care of my body”, Hervé (17 years) declares.  He lives on the street.  He is a car washer, but came to the Popular Education Centre (CEP) in 1994.  He doesn’t want to leave the street because he earns a great deal of money there.  Thanks to CEP, he also works with a “bòs metal” (craftsman in iron or in wrought iron) since several months.  He appreciates that he has learnt a profession, but he is not ready to leave the street.  He asserts that the street is dangerous but it offers compensations.

Nolis is 13 years old.  He is in third grade and lives at the Foundation “Timoun se Lespwa” (Children are hope) of Father Louisimond.  He wants to become a mechanic.  He does not want to go back to the street because he feels in security where he is: “I do not have to defend myself against older boys.”

Nadine is 22 years and she wonders what would have become of her if CAFA hadn’t assisted her for a while and convinced her to abandon the street.  Now, she encounters the problem that CAFA will have to drop her in future in order to make place for other street girls.

What future for street children ?

“The future does not bode well for street children, especially if the political crisis and the lack of social services continue, for they worsen the social and economical impasse which arises for children who are already in the street as well as for the ones, much more numerous, who are not in the street,” Dr. Françoise Ponticq states.

The child arriving in the street runs away from a situation of poverty and seeks an alternative.  When his rights to education, to health and to leisure, three fundamental rights, are really respected, he has no pretext to go to the street.  “It’s this basic problem that needs to be solved urgently,” Father Simon of Timkatec says.

While broaching the question with children, they show themselves to be very pessimistic with regard to their future.

Stigmatization and indifference constitute the deadliest weapons that can be used against street children.  By many considered to be the dregs of society, they have often developed a good-for-nothing complex.

Rony has many dreams in his head, such as driving one of the high-speed race cars that he watches on the TVs in the department stores downtown.  But well, “It is time to face reality and say to myself that I will never have this chance,” he says.

Ms. Stefanie Conrad, Public Relations Officer of Plan Haiti, states that her organization established in December 2002 a partnership with Save the Children through the project : “An immediate Response to the issue of street boys and girls,” in order to contribute to public awareness on street children, to strengthen the institutions working with children, to provide social services to them, to conduct advocacy activities and to put forward sustainable solutions with regard to their situation.

“Many street children take charge of their life from a very young age onwards.  They are creative in developing techniques to protect themselves and to survive, and very often also take care of the survival of the family.  These are the strengths and potentials which we should highlight in each of our interventions,” Stefanie Conrad of Plan Haiti emphasizes

 

Leaders of the reception centres talk about follow-up to the activities which were already carried out.  Therefore, they would like to have funds for training the youth who they have rehabilitated and sent back to their original families, so that they will not fall in the same mess again.

These efforts and many others have been carried out for a number of years in Haiti.  Nevertheless, public powers as well as private individuals still have much to do to eradicate the problem.

Because “if we want peace, we must practice justice” should not remain mere words.  It is social justice which all should render to street children.

Some reference institutions

Aide à l’Enfance Canada (Save the Children Canada)

8 Imp Baron, Ave Jn Paul II, Turgeau

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Tel: (509) 245-2101/0243

E-mail: aecanada@haitiworld.com

Casa Alianza

Bureau pour l’Amérique Centrale

Apartado 1734-2050

San Pedro, Costa Rica

Tel: (506) 253-5439

Fax: (506) 224-5689

Email: info@casa-alianza.org

Site web: www.casa-alianza.org

Resp. Bruce Harris

Centre d’Appui pour le développement (CAD)

14, rue Bredy, Carrefour-Feuilles

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Resp. Mme Marline Mondésir

Centre d’Appui Familial (CAFA)

Rue Mgr Guilloux, Morne Lélio 1, rue Cangé. Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Tel: (509) 222-1005

Centre d’éducation populaire (CEP)

10, rue Saint- Gérard

Carrefour-feuilles

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Resp :Jean-Robert Chéry

Coalition Haïtienne pour la défense des droits de l’Enfant (COHADDE)

23, 3ème Avenue du travail

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

L’Escale Fontaine Duvivier

Drouillard

P.O Box:495

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Tel. : (509) 238-3820

Resp. Dr. Nadine Burdet

Fondation Timoun se Lespwa

24, Bergeau, Delmas

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Resp. Frère Jean Cefenor Louisimond

Tel: (509) 245-0251

Foyer Pierre Toussaint, Cap-Haïtien

Rue 13

Cap Haïtien, Haiti

Resp. Douglas Perlitz/Andrews Schulteis

Lakay

1, rue des Salesiens, la Saline

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Tel. (509) 510-7137

LASAF, Jacmel

Resp. Pierre Antoine Jean (Familus)

Place Louverture à l’int. No 47,

Jacmel, Haiti

Village d’enfants SOS (fermé depuis)

Santo 19, Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

Tel. (509) 238-1134

Resp. Pierre Michel André


[1] This concept also takes the adolescents into account.

[2] Frantz Lofficial, “Lakay” – a centre for street children, UNICEF, March 1998.

[3] This is 1,440 girls on 8,000 children counted.

[4] See: La domesticité juvénile en Haïti-IPSOFA, 1999.

[5] At the time of publishing this text.

[6] Expression used for gangsters in Haiti.

[7] A solvent which can cause mental troubles and violent behaviour.

[8] A type of periodic contribution to a group where each member, in turn, will receive the totality of the contributed money.

[9] By: Eric M.Gaillard, E. Génécé, B. Liautaud, L. Eustache and J.W. Pape

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