UNICEF Calls for an End to Abductions in Haiti

haiti gang
People protest for the release of kidnapped missionaries near the missionaries' headquarters in Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. A group of 17 U.S. missionaries including children was kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, Oct. 16, according to a voice message sent to various religious missions by an organization with direct knowledge of the incident. (AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn)

The United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is calling for an end to the abductions of women and children in Haiti, saying that for the first eight months of this year, kidnappings have already exceeded last year’s total.

“Nowhere is a safe place for children in Haiti,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Whether it’s on their way to school, at home or even at church, girls and boys are at risk of being kidnapped anywhere, at any time of the day or night. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.”

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Figures released by UNICEF based on official sources, indicate show that 71 women and 30 children have been kidnapped in the first eight months of this year, compared to 59 women and 37 children for the entire 2020. Most kidnappings take place in the capital.

“Criminal gangs use children as bargaining chips and earn money from parents’ love for their children,” Gough said, adding it is odious.

“These acts of violence have a lasting impact on kidnapped parents and children, captivity always causes trauma as they often witness or suffer humiliation, threats and in some cases violence.”

To improve incident reporting and assistance to children in need, including kidnapped children, UNICEF says it is supporting the national child protection agency “Institut du Bien-être Social et de Recherches”, in reactivating its free hotline to be used with a telephone hotline of the Brigade for the Protection of Minors.

UNICEF said it was urging all relevant actors to refrain from targeting children and women and calls on the government to take action to combat gang violence against children.

Meanwhile, the fate of 17 United States and Canadian missionaries, including, remains unclear after their abductors demanded US$17 million for their release or that they would be killed.

The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang that police say is holding the missionary group released a video late last month outlining the demands for their release.

“I swear by thunder that if I don’t get what I’m asking for, I will put a bullet in the heads of these Americans,” said Wilson Joseph who was dressed in a blue suit, carrying a blue hat and wearing a large cross around his neck.

In addition to kidnappings, the criminal gangs are also blamed for blocking gas distribution terminals and hijacking supply trucks, which officials say has led to a shortage of fuel.