UN says Haitian children at mercy of armed gangs as schools close
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Students prepare for the first day ofschool at the Lycee du Cent Cinquantatenaire, in Port-au-Prince, onSeptember 4, 2022. The United Nations says rising gang crime in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, is limiting access to education and is preventing thousands of children from going to school.

UNITED NATIONS (CMC) – The United Nations says rising gang crime in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, is limiting access to education and is preventing thousands of children from going to school.

In a statement on Sunday, the world body said that since 2020, gang-related violence in the French-speaking country has led to school closures and that children have become “easy prey for gang recruitment.”

The UN said Steve (not his real name) dreamed of becoming a schoolteacher when his life was turned “upside-down” last year.

Due to the upsurge in gang-related violence in his neighbourhood, the UN said his school was closed, and the 15-year-old found himself roaming around on the streets, at the mercy of armed groups.

“I joined the gang in February 2021. They saw me walking and called me and asked me to work for them,” the UN quoted Steve as saying “There were other children like me.”

According to a report published by two local youth-focused organizations, 13 per cent of the children surveyed in one troubled neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince say they have been in direct or indirect contact with members of armed gangs as they tried to recruit them.

The UN said they offer to pay the children a lot of money while threatening to kill them if they don’t comply.

“Every day, as soon as they send me to watch the police, they will pay me 1,500 or 2,500 Haitian gourdes (US$15-25),” Steve said. “They told me they’ll kill me if I don’t want to stay with them.”

In 2021, the UN said clashes between rival armed gangs erupted in some urban areas of Port-au-Prince. The UN said more than 19,000 people, including 15,000 women and children have been forced to flee their homes due to acts of violence such as killings, and kidnappings. Hundreds of houses have been burned or damaged.

This year, the gang war has intensified and since April 24, half a million children have lost access to education in Port-au-Prince, where some 1,700 schools are closed, according to government figures.

An education ministry assessment between April and May 2022 of 859 schools in Port-au-Prince, revealed that 31 per cent had been attacked, and over 50 had closed their doors to students, the UN said.

It said a large number of schools have been occupied by gangs or are serving as temporary accommodation for families displaced by violence.

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