On the morning of January 12, 2010, I made myself a cup of tea and sat at my computer to check on world news. Immediately I was bombarded with articles, videos, and images of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti and reduced much of the country to rubble. While scrolling through the information in horror, I suddenly remembered that my dad was supposed to be there on a work trip.
With a lump in my throat I called my mom, only to find out that he had been scheduled to leave for Haiti the following day and therefore missed the earthquake by 24 hours. This relief was felt by another friend of mine, whose dad was on his way to Haiti but ended up stranded en route in Florida. Sadly my in-laws know a man whose mother had just landed in Port-au-Prince to do volunteer work and was killed that day.
Fast forward one year. I woke up on the morning of the Japan earthquake to an email from my mom asking me if I was on high ground. Early reports had said that the tsunami was expected to affect Vancouver Island, were I was living, though in the end it only raised the water level by a few centimetres in Tofino. Relief again.
But relief is the furthest thing from what most people experience in disaster zones, and for many survivors the real turmoil begins after the actual event itself. When the 2004 tsunami hit Southeast Asia, many children were left orphaned and countries like Australia barred registered pedophiles from travelling to the disaster-affected regions. In places where children are already being exploited, vulnerability is increased drastically when a natural disaster strikes.
Haiti is no different. Already one of the poorest nations in the world, the children were extremely susceptible to exploitation and human trafficking. Following last year’s earthquake reports started coming out that children were going missing from hospitals and camps, many of them being sold across the border to the Dominican Republic.
In light of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I have been wondering what differences exist between wealthy and impoverished countries in terms of trafficking levels after natural disasters. It’s a bit too early to tell with Japan, but here is why I think Haiti is more vulnerable to exploitation. These are my opinions, so I would love to hear what those of you who know more about these countries have to say.
- In Haiti, children under the age of 15 make up 45% of the population. Before the earthquake, NGOs estimated that about 10,000 of these kids were living on the streets of Port-au-Prince. Japan on the other hand made headlines in 2007 for child numbers being at a record low, at 13.6% of the population. Perhaps if there are less children to exploit and more adults in proportion to protect them, trafficking levels will not be as high.
- Haiti’s earthquake death toll was in the hundreds of thousands, while Japan’s is in the tens of thousands. Haiti already had an estimated 200,000 orphans before the earthquake, let alone after it as many lost their parents. A lower death toll means that less children have been orphaned in Japan.
- Child exploitation has been a problem in Haiti for a long time and is often seen as normal. Before the earthquake, more than 300,000 children were already in forced labor in Haiti. The increased vulnerability of Haitian children after the earthquake coupled with the permeating attitude that children can be used and abused makes it easier to exploit and traffic them.
- Japan has the best disaster-preparedness infrastructure in the world, and despite the destruction it has a strong enough economy to bounce back much faster than Haiti can. Therefore the window of opportunity for traffickers and pedophiles is much smaller in Japan than it is in Haiti.
- Haiti borders the Dominican Republic, making human trafficking along the border relatively easy. Japan is an island, making international trafficking more complicated.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with any of these propositions? How can we prevent pedophiles from travelling to countries after disasters? How can we reduce incentive for traffickers who want to use earthquakes as opportunities to destroy lives? Would love to hear your thoughts below.