ECPAT-USA, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies to protect sexually exploited and trafficked children, announced that it has donated $15,000 to its Dominican Republican counterpart, MAIS (Movement for the International Self-Development of Solidarity). The funds will be used to document the increasing numbers of trafficked children crossing the northern region of the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic following Haiti’s devastating earthquake in January.
MAIS will work with representatives of other child welfare agencies, including UNICEF and the National Council for Children (CONANI), as well as border organizations in a coordinated effort to detail the extent of the crisis. A combined report on their findings from the six-month project will be submitted to Dominican authorities, along with recommendations to help establish appropriate responses to the problem.
Leading the monitoring program are MAIS coordinators Maria Josefina Paulino and Luis Mendez Jimenez. They noted that the deadly earthquake has severely weakened border control, and this has led to more young children being trafficked out of Haiti and transported to the streets of Dominican Republic. The children are compelled to earn money through such activities as begging, shining shoes, and selling peanuts or eggs to meet quotas established by their adult captors. They are often subject to physical and psychological abuse, or used as mules in drug trafficking and delivery.
“The situation has been worsening for several years, but we have especially noticed an increase in the presence of pre-adolescent children after the earthquake in January. The children turn up in major tourist destinations such as Santo Domingo, Santiago, as well as Bavaro, Puerto Plata, and Punta Cana,” said Mr. Jimenez. “They can be found begging at traffic lights, shopping malls and bus terminals, usually controlled by adults who pay for their capture in Haiti and their illegal transfer to the country.”Carol Smolenski, Executive Director of ECPAT-USA, said donations to MAIS and similar organization are critical to help address a problem that has quickly become a global epidemic.
“Children have always been easy victims for traffickers, but major disasters such as Haiti’s devastating earthquake create social and political chaos that disrupt families and severely impact the ability of law enforcement agencies to maintain civil control. Criminal elements move in to exploit the situation at a time when governments and normal social safety nets are at their weakest.”
She added: “When offering donations, supplies and medical assistance to these devastated countries, it’s important to also consider agencies like MAIS, who sometimes are the last hope for many of these exploited children.”
In the past year, ECPAT International partnered with ethical retailer The Body Shop to campaign against global sex trafficking. In the U.S., 60% of the proceeds from the sales from The Body Shop’s “Soft Hands, Kind Hearts” Hand Cream go to ECPAT-USA. The organization also promotes the adoption of the Code of Conduct within the hotel industry and among tour operators and other members of the tourism sector. The Code requires them to implement practical measures to prevent child sex tourism.