“Being a child in Haiti today is harsher and more dangerous than it ever has been in living memory. The threats and hardships children face are simply unimaginable. They desperately need protection and support,” said UNICEF Haiti Representative Bruno Maes.
Displacement and violence
Children find themselves in the crossfire, or directly targeted, as armed groups terrorize the population in their fight for territory and control, mainly in the capital Port-au-Prince, and increasingly in the neighbouring Artibonite region, said UNICEF.
Children are being killed or injured on their way to school while women and girls face extreme sexual violence, the agency noted. Kidnappings for ransom have skyrocketed, as have attacks on schools. Tens of thousands have been displaced by the violence.
At the same time, hunger and life-threatening malnutrition are at record levels across the country, UNICEF said, concentrated in the capital’s poorest and most insecure neighbourhoods, where some families are essentially trapped and cut off from essential services.
The number of children suffering from life-threatening malnutrition shot up by 30 per cent since last year, and nearly one in four suffers from chronic malnutrition.
Vulnerability to armed groups
Violence, poverty and despair are driving children towards armed groups, UNICEF continued.
Many children and young people in Port-au-Prince say they are being forced to join armed groups for protection or because it means food and income for the family. Some say they provide a sense of identity and belonging.
In addition to the violence, hunger and diseases such as cholera, Haiti faces the constant threat of violent storms and earthquakes. In early June, heavy rains, which coincided with the start of the hurricane season, caused destructive and deadly flooding. It was followed by a deadly earthquake just days later in Grand Anse.
Urgent need for funding
Nearly three million children are in need in Haiti this year, the highest number on record. But funding falls far short of the humanitarian needs. UNICEF’s $246 million funding requirement for Haiti this year is less than 15 per cent funded.
UNICEF is scaling up its operations and expanding its presence in the field, despite the limited funding. Together with partners, the agency said it was delivering lifesaving support.
“Despite the massive challenges, humanitarian support has helped stave off catastrophic hunger and malnutrition. But far more is needed. The international community cannot turn its back on Haiti’s children in their hour of most profound need,” said Mr. Maes.