Feature: Curbing Sexual Violence in Haiti

Linked with Nicole Magloire – Haiti.

(Americans for UNFPA): PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (not dated) – Every day, Lovely (11) and Laura (12) hang out at the Champs de Mars, the main plaza in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. They beg for money, carry things for a small tip, and clean windscreens on cars. Sometimes they sell sex. On an average day, they make up to 160 gourdes, or a little less than $4. That money mostly goes to paying for clothes and transportation.

Lately, they have been showing up regularly at CAFA, a center where street girls in the Haitian capital can come to eat breakfast, take a shower and learn things like making belts, arranging flowers, and skills needed to work in a beauty parlor. They also learn how to protect themselves from HIV and sexual violence, and pick up some of the basic knowledge they haven’t gotten because they don’t go to school.

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, provides support to CAFA and several other institutions that offer medical, psychological and legal assistance to victims of sexual violence. Founded just over a decade ago, CAFA is the only center for girls living and working on the streets of Port-au-Prince. It can accommodate daytime visits of up to 150 girls, of which almost a third are prostitutes.

The girls also benefit from a national condom distribution program supported by UNFPA. The program provides $500,000 worth of condoms per year, aimed at the most vulnerable population, and covering about 40 per cent of the national consumption of condoms.

An estimated 600 girls live and work on the street in the Haitian capital. Many of them have their own children, and many others are regularly exposed to violence and unprotected sex with clients and police officers.

During the political and social unrest that has been ongoing since 2003, the rate of sexual violence in Haiti has increased several-fold. A study shows that seven out of ten women in Haiti have been victims of violence, and that 37 percent of those cases were sexual violence.

To boost stability in Haiti during recent episodes of political upheaval, several United Nations agencies have carried out “rapid impact” projects ranging from election support to food aid. UNFPA contributes to this effort by helping to prevent sexual violence and HIV.

“Impunity is by far the biggest problem we face when dealing with sexual violence,” said Adeline Chancy, Haiti’s Minister of Women’s Affairs. Her Ministry is now trying to address this problem through, among other means, an initiative between Haiti and Brazil, which UNFPA is part of. This assistance not only helps train medical personnel and create public awareness about sexual violence, but also provides training for police officers and establishes institutions which offer legal advice and health care for victims. While legislation against sexual violence has been passed in Haiti; better prevention, care and enforcement of existing laws is still needed.

Dr. Nicole Magloire, a consultant working with the Ministry, says that organized gangs use rape and sexual violence as a weapon during times of political and social unrest. “It creates chaos in the country and leaves men feeling helpless since they are unable to protect their wives and children,” she adds.

Haiti is near the bottom (153 of 177 countries) of the 2005 Human Development Index, which ranks countries’ level of development based on income, educational attainment and life expectancy. The overall HIV prevalence rate in Haiti, estimated at 3 to 4 percent, is the highest in the Western Hemisphere. The Haitian population of 8 million is characterized by high rates of both fertility and mortality. Population growth is 2.3 percent a year, while life expectancy is estimated at 52 years. Half of the Haitian population is aged 20 or younger. Women head more than half of the country’s households. (Read this on this not dated page of Americans for UNFPA).

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