UNICEF concerned about ‘unimaginable violence’ against women, children in Haiti
FILE - A woman and her daughter run past a barricade that was set up by police protesting bad police governance in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 26, 2023. Haiti's nearly 200 gangs have taken advantage of the chaos, warring for control. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph,File)

PORT AU PRINCE, (CMC) – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Monday said persistent violence in Haiti remains a significant concern for the safety and welfare of its most vulnerable citizens, especially women and children, citing reports of an “alarming spike” in kidnapping and other crimes.

According to UNICEF, nearly 300 confirmed cases of kidnapping were reported in the first six months of 2023, almost matching the total number documented over 2022 and close to three times the number in 2021.

“The stories we are hearing from UNICEF staff and partners on the ground are shocking and unacceptable,” said Gary Conille, UNICEF regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The growing trend in kidnappings and abductions is extremely worrisome, threatening both the people of Haiti and those who have come to help,” he added.

In most instances, children and women are forcefully taken by armed groups and used for financial or tactical gains. The victims who manage to return home grapple with deep physical and psychological scars, possibly for many years.

The statement by UNICEF follows a report by Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights (CARDH) on “Gang violence and kidnapping” that there have been 83 cases of kidnapping during the month of July. It said 51 foreign nationals from four countries were kidnapped from January to July 2023.

“This situation portends an increase in violence and other gang modus operandi for the third quarter. Especially since the deployment of the international force in Haiti, conditioned on the positive vote of the Security Council and other financial and logistical parameters, will take a little time compared to the urgency of the situation,” said CARDH’s Crime Observation Unit (COC).

UNICEF said the overall situation in Haiti is catastrophic.

“Today, an estimated 5.2 million people, or close to half of the entire population, require humanitarian assistance, including almost three million children,” UNICEF said.

“Children find themselves in the crossfire, or directly targeted, and women and girls face extreme sexual violence, as armed groups terrorise the population in their fight for territory and control, mainly in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and also in other regions,” the human rights organisation added.

Conille said women and children are not commodities.

“They are not bargaining chips. And they must never be exposed to such unimaginable violence,” Conille said, calling for the immediate release and safe return of all those who have been kidnapped.

In addition to the issues surrounding crime and violence, there are reports indicating that local healthcare systems are teetering on the brink of collapse amid a resurgence of cholera and severe malnutrition.

UNICEF said the increase in violence, looting, road blockades, and the pervasive presence of armed groups severely obstruct humanitarian efforts, making it difficult to deliver much-needed aid to affected communities.

UNICEF warns that as months go by, it adds an increasing layer of fear and complexity to an already challenging environment for those delivering life-saving aid.

The assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021 plunged the country into a deep political crisis, which has been exacerbated by an unprecedented breakdown in security.

Armed criminal gangs are said to be “imposing a regime of terror” and violence in most parts of Port-au-Prince, severely impacting the humanitarian, human rights and socio-economic situation in a country already hit hard by poverty, disease and disasters.

The UN agency added that it stands steadfast in its commitment to deliver critical aid and support for Haiti’s children who have been impacted by these traumatic events.

“I have witnessed the remarkable resilience of Haitian children, women and families as they face seemingly insurmountable challenges, refusing to surrender,” said Conille.

“However, their bravery is being met with increasing, unthinkable terror. It must stop now,” he added.

Last weekend, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) grouping welcomed the announcement by two of its members that they are willing to join Kenya in sending a multi-national force to deal with the security situation in Haiti.

The Bahamas and Jamaica said they are willing to send up to 350 personnel to the French-speaking CARICOM nation after Kenya’s Foreign Minister, Alfred Mutua, said late last month that the African country’s commitment is to deploy a contingent of 1,000 police officers to help train and assist Haitian police restore normalcy in the country and protect strategic installations.

READ: PM confirms Jamaica ready to send soldiers to Haiti

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