Monday, August 16, 2010

Concrete Steps to Combat Trafficking in Persons

Michelle Karshan, Foreign Press Liaison, National Palace, June 12, 2003

US Turns Blind Eye to Concrete Steps Made by Haiti to Combat Trafficking in Persons

The release yesterday of the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report, placing Haiti in the category of least compliant countries, came as a complete shock to the Government of Haiti. Over the past two years Haiti's government has made significant progress to enforce the human rights and quality of life for its children, as well as passing legislation in May prohibiting trafficking in persons and banning the provision of the labor code which sanctioned child domestic labor. (See below for more details on efforts made by the Government of Haiti.)

The State Department defines a tier 3 rating as applying to those countries "whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so." Haiti's Minister of Education, Marie Carmel Paul Austin, explained that placing Haiti in this category "is unjustified and appears completely at odds with the criteria used to rate other listed countries in their efforts to combat trafficking."

An example of how the report does not consistently apply its own criteria and fails to take into consideration measures taken by the Haitian government, while praising and crediting identical efforts made by other nations, can be found in the area of education. Haiti's Universal Schooling program has increased access to schooling through construction of additional schools in rural and urban areas, subsidizing school uniforms and textbooks by 70%, expanding its hot lunch program, increasing its school bus program, and waging a nationwide literacy program, now in its second year.

These measures to promote greater school enrollment in Haiti were not even cited in the report as preventive measures to combat child domestic service, whereas in the case of 17 other countries ranked tier 1 and tier 2 nations, raising school enrollment is cited as a significant preventive measure.

Many glaring contradictions are evident when comparing Haiti with other countries who were placed in less damning categories. The State Department report completely ignored the important provision of Haiti's anti-trafficking legislation that rescinds the provision of the Labor Code sanctioning child domestic service -- which has long been criticized by the human rights community. Oddly enough, 13 countries with no anti-trafficking legislation whatsoever are ranked tier 2 or tier 1, while Haiti is ranked tier 3.

Contrary to what was reported in the State Department's report, Haiti has made important strides to address the root cause of domestic servitude, took preventive measures such as the passage of critical legislation and is creating structures for implementation and enforcement of these changes. The State Department report faults Haiti for not "arresting or prosecuting traffickers" while there is no documentation of prosecution for 4 countries listed in the report which are ranked tier 2. Not mentioned in the report is Haiti's new special police unit that was recently trained and activated for the protection of children and the promotion of their rights.

This turning of a blind eye to the numerous achievements made by the Government of Haiti begs the question as to whether the rating placed against Haiti is not just another attempt to denigrate the Haitian government. "Placing Haiti on this list is truly outrageous in light of President Aristide's unilateral and historic efforts to fight against the problem of restaveks and the Parliament's passage of new and extremely progressive law on these issues, " said Ira Kurzban, General Counsel to the Government of Haiti.

While the State Department report itself cites Haiti's economic conditions as an obstacle to improving social conditions, Haiti remains under a US-led financial embargo. Recent press coverage has been increasingly sympathetic to Haiti's humanitarian crisis exacerbated by this two-year old embargo and there is an increased clamor in the US Congress, as well as in peace and religious circles, to lift the embargo on Haiti. Ironically, countries receiving yesterday's State Department tier 3 rating become subject to financial sanctions by the US and international financial institutions providing development assistance.

In the absence of a logical explanation for the unjust rating of Haiti, Kurzban further added, "It is completely political, having nothing to do with the reality of what Haiti has done."

Recent efforts by the Government of Haiti to Combat Trafficking in Persons includes:

Education: Universal Schooling program for increased access to school, subsidized school uniforms and textbooks (increasing to 70% Fall 2003), constructed schools in rural and urban areas, expanded school hot lunch program, expanded school bus program.

Anti-Trafficking Legislation/Prosecution: On May 15, 2003 Haiti's Parliament enacted anti-trafficking legislation and also repealed a provision of the Labor Code sanctioning child domestic service.

Police Training: Creation of a special 33 officer brigade to protect minors against all forms of abuse, including abuses related to child domestic service.

Border efforts include steps to increase specialized border patrols. A presidential commission is accessing and addressing border issues.

Birth Certificates/Travel Documents: This government recently renewed a previous commitment to register all birth certificates free of cost.

Haiti has long required parental consent for any child traveling without a parent.
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From the Haiti Dream Keeper Archives