‘Extremely worrisome’: Kidnappings of women, children surge in Haiti

UNICEF calls for immediate release of women and children as nearly 300 abductions are reported in first half of 2023.

Haitian protesters in Port-au-Prince demand the release of US nurse Alix Dorsainvil and her daughter, who were kidnapped by armed men [Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters]

Kidnappings of women and children are surging in Haiti as gang violence worsens, with the number of abductions in the first half of 2023 nearly reaching last year’s total.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement on Monday that close to 300 kidnappings have been reported in the Caribbean nation in the first six months of the year.

Most often, the women and children were taken by armed groups “for financial or tactical gains”, said the agency. It called for the immediate release of those kidnapped.

“Women and children are not commodities. They are not bargaining chips. And they must never be exposed to such unimaginable violence,” Garry Conille, UNICEF’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said in the statement.

“The growing trend in kidnappings and abductions is extremely worrisome, threatening both the people of Haiti and those who have come to help.”

Gang violence has been on the rise across Haiti — particularly in the capital Port-au-Prince — after the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise worsened widespread political instability.

The UN said in November that armed gangs controlled large swathes of the capital, where they carried out murders, kidnappings and sexual violence in an effort to expand their influence and “terrorise” residents.

Healthcare facilities have been forced to temporarily close as a result of the violence, and thousands of people have fled their homes.

“I have witnessed the remarkable resilience of Haitian children, women and families as they face seemingly insurmountable challenges, refusing to surrender,” UNICEF’s Conille said on Monday.

“However, their bravery is being met with increasing, unthinkable terror. It must stop now.”

The UN agency’s statement came days after United States nurse Alix Dorsainvil and her daughter were abducted near Port-au-Prince, spurring protests and calls for their release.

The White House said last week that US President Joe Biden had been briefed on the kidnappings and that Washington was working for their release. The two victims are the wife and daughter of Sandro Dorsainvil, director of the faith-based humanitarian aid group El Roi Haiti.

“We are at the one-week mark of Alix and her daughter’s kidnapping,” El Roi Haiti said on its website on August 3. “Many tears have been shed this week but we, together with our team, are working and praying continuously to bring them home safely, and we continue to hold onto hope.”

A girl holds a sign during a protest in Haiti demanding the release of a US nurse who was reported kidnapped
A girl carries a sign that reads, ‘Free school is broken, release the nurse’, during a march to demand the release of a US nurse and her daughter in Port-au-Prince on July 31 [File: Odelyn Joseph/AP Photo]

Witnesses told The Associated Press news agency that Dorsainvil was working in her organisation’s small brick clinic when a group of armed men burst in and seized her.

Lormina Louima, a patient waiting for a checkup, said one man pulled out his gun and told her to relax. “When I saw the gun, I was so scared,” Louima said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to see this, let me go.'”

The US in late July also ordered non-emergency government personnel to leave Haiti and issued a travel advisory due to concerns around kidnappings and violence. “Kidnapping is widespread, and victims regularly include US citizens,” the government said.

Late last year, Haiti’s acting prime minister, Ariel Henry, appealed for an international armed force to be deployed to Haiti to restore order and quell the violence.

The demand enjoyed the backing of the United Nations and the US, but it also set off protests, as many Haitians rejected the prospect of foreign intervention.

Since then, efforts to mount a “multinational force” to assist Haiti have stalled. But Kenya said on July 29 that it was ready to lead such a mission, pending approval from the UN Security Council.

The Haitian government welcomed Kenya’s statement, and the US Department of State said Washington would introduce a UN Security Council resolution with Ecuador to authorise the deployment.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies