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Haiti's Children at Increased Risk of Abduction, Slavery, Trafficking

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Unaccompanied children in Haiti, including orphans and those sent by their parents to live with more affluent relatives or strangers, run a greater risk of being abducted, enslaved, sold or trafficked due to increased insecurity following last month's devastating earthquake, a group of United Nations human rights experts warned Tuesday.

"Protection of children must be at the heart of the relief operation in Haiti," said the independent experts, who are mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor slavery, sale of children, trafficking and violence against children.

"Unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable and it is essential, wherever possible, to register, trace and reunite children with their families," they said. "During the evacuation efforts, it is imperative to avoid the unnecessary separation of families which may place children at higher risk, aggravate their trauma and distress and hinder their recovery and reintegration."

The group praised the UN's establishment of a "Child Protection Sub-Cluster," geared to safeguard children's rights and prevent violence, abuse and exploitation, and highlighted the efforts of this body to set-up a rapid registration system for unaccompanied children.

"One of their key goals is to register children under five, and older girls, children and youth with mental disabilities or serious injuries, as well as restaveks (those sent by parents to live with others) that have been separated from their 'employers.' We welcome this vital initiative."

They also urged international organizations and governments assisting Haitians "to ensure that the work on child protection remains a priority and continues to be properly funded and coordinated under the umbrella of the United Nations."

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Independent Expert on Haiti have also emphasized the critical need to protect children in the chaotic aftermath of the earthquake, and in light of the particular dangers posed by thousands of gang-members and other criminals who escaped from prisons damaged by the quake.

The warning was issued by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery Gulnara Shahinian; the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography Najat M'jid Maalla; the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children Joy Ngozi Ezeilo; and the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children Marta Santos Pais.

(Xinhua News Agency February 3, 2010)

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