GENEVA – At least 15 children have disappeared from Haiti’s hospitals since the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated the Caribbean nation, the United Nations Children’s Fund said Friday.
“We have documented around 15 cases of children disappearing from hospitals and not with their own family at the time,” Unicef adviser Jean-Luc Legrand said in Geneva.
He said Unicef fears the youngsters may have been abducted by traffickers operating from the neighboring Dominican Republic.
“Unicef has been working in Haiti for many years and we knew the problem with the trade of children in Haiti that existed already beforehand,” Legrand said. “Unfortunately, many of these trade networks have links with the international adoption market.”
“This is going on. This is happening now. We are starting to have the first evidence of that, this is unquestionable,” he said.
Unicef has therefore activated all available alert mechanisms to make sure that these kidnappings cease, and is organizing reception camps to shelter all unaccompanied children.
Legrand emphasized that these children “are not orphans.”
It must be reliably proved that they have neither of their two parents, according to Legrand, who also noted that even children who lost both parents were likely to have relatives in Haiti ready and willing to adopt them.
Unicef has established to date 20 reception centers for unaccompanied minors and attends 2,000 a day, but the goal is to be able to help 4,000 a day.
An estimated 3 million people – a third of Haiti’s population – have been affected by the quake, and as many as 200,000 may have died.
Legrand said that Unicef is not only concerned about the fate of children but also of young girls working as domestic employees who could easily fall into the hands of sex-trafficking rings.
The United Nations Population Fund, known as UNFPA, recalled that before the earthquake, Haiti was the world’s most dangerous country for a woman to give birth, a situation that has only become worse in the aftermath of the catastrophe.
Estimates indicate that some 63,000 pregnant women will give birth in the coming week, and UNFPA said Friday that some 10,000 of those women need medical attention now due to complications from their pregnancies.
Both Unicef and UNFPA warned that they fear outbreaks of sexual violence against women.
In order to ward off future illnesses, Unicef said that next week it will launch a vaccination campaign against tetanus, polio and measles for 360,000 children under 5.
With regard to the distribution of aid in general, Unicef spokeswoman Veronique Taveau said that drinking water is being distributed at 98 different points around Port-au-Prince for some 150,000 people, an amount she called “totally insufficient.”
Meanwhile, the spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Program, Emilia Casella, said Friday that up to now 1.4 million food rations have been distributed to some 200,000 people.
She said that the situation could improve soon because some survivors now have the wherewithal for cooking, and are receiving cereals, legumes and rice to make hot meals.
With regard to criticism about the difficulty of distributing aid outside the capital, the spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Elisabeth Byrs, cited the difficulties being dealt with on the ground in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. EFE