Haiti’s children call for the attention of the world

6 March 2024

Dr. Unni Krishnan, Plan International's Global Humanitarian Director, visited Haiti last week. Gang violence has displaced families, shut down schools and hindered food production, leaving children and girls highly vulnerable. He shares this message – Haiti urgently needs international support.

A girl reads from an open folder into a microphone.
Gang violence is putting girls’ safety and futures at risk. © Plan International

The UN’s Humanitarian Response Plan needs increased funding to deliver life-saving aid in Haiti. But there’s more to be done. Prioritising girls’ safety and education is critical. Programmes that provide safe spaces for learning and reduce violence against girls are essential for their future and Haiti’s.

“I want to become a doctor.” In the relative comfort of a child-friendly space in this conflict zone in Haiti, Sylvie*,13, shared her dream.

The impacts of armed gangs

The children told us that armed gangs have shut down their schools. None are allowed to go to school. These young tender minds can take only so much. Missing education limits future prospects.

Gonaïves is one of the flashpoints of the escalating gang violence that has engulfed this Caribbean Island nation. It is a tough terrain. A group of Plan International colleagues and I visited Gonaives last week, thanks to a biweekly UN helicopter service, the only safe transportation. 

“Get schools to function and stop the violence.”

Sylvie, 13

The escalating violence in the capital Port Au Prince in the past few days forced people to shut down shops, markets, and schools. Gangs burned down police stations and fired at aircraft. International flights were cancelled. We could not return as planned. 

“Stepping outside one’s home means risking death from bullets, being kidnapped by armed gangs, or suffering unimaginable violence,” said Ulrika Richardson, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in a statement last week. The UN estimates that there are about 300 gangs active across Haiti.

Children are the worst affected

A Plan International Haiti study released ahead of International Women’s Day gives a narrative about the impact of gang violence. Separation of children from their families and poverty makes them vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence

Sylvie and her friends remind humanitarian agencies about their first task – to stand in solidarity and call the attention of the world. 

“Stepping outside one’s home means risking death from bullets.”

Ulrika Richardson, UN Humanitarian Coordinator

Sylvie gave us a message to relay to the world, “Get schools to function and stop the violence”. This resonates with Haiti’s Humanitarian Response Plan for 2024, launched by the UN and the nation’s government in February in Port Au Prince. The plan calls for protection, particularly for women and girls who have suffered or are at risk of gender-based violence. An ambitious, yet under-funded UN plan aims to assist 3.6 million people who need urgent and life-saving humanitarian assistance. 

Children make up almost 55% of the people displaced. Children should be school bound, carrying a backpack or playing football. Children told us armed gangs have recruited some of their friends. Some carry guns and are made to commit someone’s else crimes. Imagine children in New York, London, or Sydney in such a context. 

Child-friendly spaces

Visits to Haiti leave you with mixed feelings. Amidst storms, earthquakes, and violence, you meet some of the most resilient children here. 

I have always admired the local volunteers. With bare hands and unflinching grit, they pull out fellow Haitians from rubble and mudslides much before international aid arrives to the scene. 

Most of my earlier visits here have been to support Haitian humanitarian workers, timed either after catastrophic storms or while Haitians are getting ready to embrace the next big one.

At the child-friendly spaces, children play, sing, and engage in theatre, art, recreational, and educational activities.  Plan International Haiti staff and volunteers are working together tirelessly to support children, particularly girls, during this crisis.

Our child-friendly spaces offer a haven for them to play, learn, and receive psychosocial support. Trained staff can identify children needing support, referring them to specialised services, ensuring an opportunity for healing, play, and learning – the building blocks of a brighter future.

Haiti calls for international support

With dreams like Sylvie’s hanging in the balance, Haiti urgently needs international support. Increased funding for the UN plan will deliver life-saving aid. But for a lasting impact, empower girls. Invest in safe spaces and programmes that prioritise their education and safety. This may help to write a different future for Haiti, one where every child, not just Sylvie, can reach for their dreams.

*Name changed.

Emergencies, Protection from violence, Child protection in emergencies, Climate change, climate crisis, Disaster relief, Education in emergencies, Food crisis, Migrant and displaced children