Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti: Danger Grows for Girls After the Quake

All but three girls at Le Foyer des Filles de Dieu orphanage are safe after the earthquake. For impoverished Haitian girls, schools and centres like this all-girls facility offer protection from a constant threat of rape or exploitation.

HAITI - Long before the earthquake struck, long before the schools where they could be safe crumbled, girls and young women were the most vulnerable in Haiti. Now, in the aftermath of a disaster, there are greater fears for girls' safety in a country where hundreds of thousands of children live as indentured slaves and the poorest girls in Port-au-Prince slums are targets of gang rape.

"My worry is we put a lot of effort into bringing relief, but we have to have some protective measures to benefit women and girls to avoid their being victimized and sexually assaulted. It was already difficult in ordinary times," said Gerardo Ducos, Haiti researcher for Amnesty International.

A Haitian women's organization documented 238 rapes in an 18-month period ending June 2008: 140 of those were girls aged 19 months to 18 years.

Prosecutions for rape, which became a criminal offence only in 2005, are pitifully few. The Guardian newspaper reported in a documentary film last year only 12 rape cases went to trial and that the police unit in charge of child protection has only 12 officers for 4 million children.

"I am not able to go to the police because I am really frightened," a girl named Stephanie, who was raped during carnival in February 2007, told Amnesty International. "The attackers really pressured me not to report them although I don't know them. This is all so humiliating. I had to stay quiet."

A girl named Laure described to Amnesty International how her landlord forced her to have sex – sometimes at gunpoint – so her family would not be evicted. When Laure's mother complained to the police, she was beaten up and Laure was raped again...


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