Human Trafficking in Post-Earthquake Haiti

February 4, 2010

As aid flows to the victims of Tuesday's earthquake in Haiti, we cannot forget that those suffering the effects of this disaster will not be affected equally. Some will be shaken from lives of prosperity into poverty; others, those already vulnerable in this poorest of western hemisphere nations, will face some of the worst and most desperate circumstances in the world.

Circumstances such as these directly enable trafficking in persons - modern slavery. After the 2004 tsunami which wreaked terrible devastation across coastal Southeast Asia, human trafficking rates spiked in Sri Lanka and Indonesia (see page 18), with women and orphans in particular at the highest risk for being kidnapped or coerced into slavery. Southeast Asia's human trafficking rates dropped only when the Sri Lankan, Indonesian, Indian and Thai governments created information campaigns and worked to step up enforcement and prosecution.

The obvious difference today is that the Haitian government is in pretty bad shape. Infrastructure and social services are in tatters. Even before the earthquake, unstable, impoverished, and hurricane-wracked Haiti had a large human trafficking problem. In the wake of this latest disaster, will the Haitian government have the capacity to protect the freedom of their citizenry when so many other priorities will distract them?

The United States has an opportunity to provide that assistance. America has its problems with trafficking but by engaging on the issue of human trafficking both within our borders and abroad we can provide this necessary service to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. What do we do? We focus on the Department of State's "Three 'P's:" Punishment, Protection, and Prevention.

If our nation takes the initiative, we can provide lasting help to Haiti, protecting its young and vulnerable from the horrors of slavery, and simultaneously work to end slavery in our own country.

Support Congress in establishing December 2nd as the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery and contact me at slehman@rac.org for more information.

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