June 22, 2017 / 8:50 PM / 2 months ago

Haiti orphanages hotspot of child trafficking, abuse, says charity

BOGOTA, June 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Children living in hundreds of orphanages in Haiti suffer sexual and physical abuse and some are trafficked into orphanages for profit, according to a charity founded by "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling.

Many of Haiti's orphanages use deception to recruit children from unknowing and impoverished parents - a form of trafficking - and use those children to attract donations, said the report released on Thursday by the London-based charity Lumos.

Donors, mostly from the United States and faith-based organisations, give $70 million a year to one-third of Haiti's 750 orphanages, it said.

About 30,000 children live in orphanages in Haiti, even though four in five of those children have at least one living parent, Lumos said. Most orphanages are privately funded.

Impoverished families are frequently duped into giving up their children by orphanage directors who hire so-called child-finders and local pastors who also seek out children, it said.

In some cases, families had been paid $75 to give their children away, the report said.

"Many parents are deceived into giving up their children, purely so that unscrupulous individuals can make a profit," said Lumos Chief Executive Georgette Mulheir in a statement.

"Well-intended donors give vast sums to orphanages. But 80 percent of children living there are not orphans," she said.

Taking children from their parents through deception, coercion or purchase is a form of human trafficking going largely unchecked, said the report released at Haiti's first anti-trafficking conference this week in Port-au-Prince.

In a country where one in four people lives on $1.23 a day, extreme poverty drives families to sell or give their children to orphanages on false promises they will receive an education, food or care, Lumos said.

Lumos interviewed 44 children who had been raised in orphanages as well as former orphanage volunteers, health care workers and government officials.

Some children reported beatings and cold water being dumped on toddlers who were forced to sleep on an orphanage floor.

One 19-year-old man with a physical disability told Lumos he was regularly beaten at an orphanage that he left in 2015.

"They would use a stick or an electric cord to hit you, wherever on your body," he said. "Sometimes they would hit you and you'd bleed."

Lumos said it found evidence in the past two years that sexual abuse in orphanages occurs, saying such cases "rarely come to light." Even if such cases are reported and investigated, they rarely result in justice for victims, it said.

The charity urged donors to redirect funds away from Haiti's orphanages.

It suggested spending money instead on improving foster care and local adoption programs and helping families look after their children by funding schooling and housing projects.

Lumos founder Rowling is author of the hugely popular Harry Potter fantasy book series. (Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by xxxx.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)

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