Conflicts & War

Haitian gangs recruit homeless kids as cannon fodder

By Milo Milfort

Port-au-Prince, May 30 (EFE).- Shelters for homeless children have been left virtually empty as the gangs battling for control of swathes of Haiti’s capital are filling their ranks with youngsters.

“The soldiers of the armed groups come at night to recruit us,” a boy tells Efe at the Champs de Mars, the vast public park in the heart of Port-au-Prince, where street kids congregate.

It was near the park that Haiti’s first dedicated rehabilitation and reintegration center for homeless youth, with capacity for up to 400 people, was opened in 2013.

“There are around 48 people here. They spend the day somewhere else and come here every night to sleep,” an adult resident of the largely derelict facility says, mentioning Ti Lapli, Bougoy, and 100 Jours as gangs that have taken to looking for new recruits in the Champ de Mars.

Djems Olivier, a sociologist at the State University of Haiti, said that the phenomenon of gangs using children “as human shields or as scouts” goes back to at least 2000.

Less than a decade into its existence, the Champ de Mars shelter is a scene of squalor. The central courtyard is a marketplace for illegal drugs and other contraband, while the dormitories have been turned into defacto public toilets.

The ground is covered with garbage and there is no electricity.

“The director began to loot materials, we did the rest,” a 20-year-old man who grew up at the shelter tells Efe.

This part of the capital is under the control of the powerful G9 gang, led by flamboyant ex-cop Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier.

Earlier this month, the United Nations office in Port-au-Prince said it had information about the use of child soldiers in the multisided gang war that erupted in the capital on April 24.

The UN also cited numerous accounts of kids’ being killed by gangs on suspicion of acting as informants for their enemies.

Even more disturbing are reports of gang rapes of children as young as 10, carried out by gangs with the aim of intimidating residents of neighborhoods located in the “territories” of rival outfits.

Between April 24 and May 16, according to UN estimates, at least 92 civilians and 96 gang members have died in Port-au-Prince as a result of organized attacks, though the actual death toll could be much higher.

Thousands of people have been forced from their homes and those who don’t have family with room to spare are taking refuge in schools or sleeping rough in the streets.

The well-armed gangs, some of them with links to Haiti’s oligarchs, have grown increasingly powerful and brazen as public institutions have withered in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. EFE mm/dr

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