Life is hard for girls in Haiti. Disease, hunger and gang warfare has brought the country to its knees and there appears to be no end in sight. In the southeast, 14-year-old Naica worries that she will soon have to drop out of school as her school fees have not been paid in months.
School is the one constant Naica’s life, and her hopes of becoming a nurse will end if she cannot continue her education. “I don’t have all the books and notepads I need and my school fees have not been paid yet. The school fees are 7,500 gourdes a year, but my mother has only been able to pay 1,500 gourdes.”
Although school attendance is compulsory in Haiti, the State runs less than 20% of schools, leaving over 80% to private institutions that require tuition fees. The current crisis means that there’s often little or no money left for education. This coupled with school closures for safety reasons, has deprived Haitian children of their right to protection and education.
Naica’s mother Claudine, 27, explains that she lost her job buying and selling chicken meat door to door as the spiralling food costs meant she could no longer afford to pay the wholesale costs to buy her stock. “Things are getting out of hand, all the shops are raising their prices,” she explains.
A box of 12 chickens that Claudine used to buy has doubled in price in the last year, meaning that she can no longer make a profit as her customers cannot afford to pay her twice the price. Her husband, Naica’s stepfather, who is a bricklayer is also out of work at the moment.
Naica is aware of the tough economic situation her family is going through and tells us that there is usually no money to purchase sanitary pads. “When we don’t have the money to buy them, I use pieces of cloth. I feel ashamed to use them, but almost all the other girls have to do the same. A pack of pads costs 150 gourdes now.”
At school Naica says that her biology teacher warns girls about sexual exploitation, which is increasing as quickly as the cost of living crisis. “I think when parents don’t have the means to take care of their daughters, they are vulnerable, because if they go and ask for money from the boys, the boys will ask for sex in exchange.”
Claudine often warns her daughter not to speak to boys to keep her safe from harm. “My mum always tells me not to talk to boys so that I don’t get pregnant. Life is hard, there is nothing. If a boy approaches me in the street, I tell him that my mother forbids me to talk to boys,” explains Naica.
Drought is another problem faced by Haitian families. “The vegetable gardens are no longer productive, my husband planted some potatoes, but we were unable to harvest anything. I think this is due to the lack of rain,” says Claudine who also worries about paying the rent for her home as they do not have a house of their own.
Plan International response to support girl’s and families in need
Identified as in need of assistance, Plan International is supporting Claudine and her family with a cash transfer which she was able to use to pay some of her daughter’s tuition fees, buy food for the household, and buy the ingredients to make palitos, a traditional Haitian sweet made from ginger and cinnamon which she sells door to door in her community.
“I was so happy when I received the cash. I went to the shops straight away to buy some food to cook for the children. I cooked them rice with black beans and chicken meat sauce. I also bought two chickens, which I can feed up to sell,” shares Claudine.
At least 2.6 million children are expected to need immediate life-saving assistance by 2023 warns UNICEF, an increase of half a million in the last two years due to an upsurge in armed violence combined with a resurgence of cholera, food insecurity and skyrocketing inflation.
As part of Plan International’s emergency response in Haiti, we are providing cash transfers, nutrition and hygiene kits to tackle the recent cholera outbreak, as well as holding protection and gender workshops in the southeast and northeast departments of the country.
Although she says she is not interested in politics, Naica says that if she was president of Haiti there are some things she would change. “I would support the children by paying their school fees. I would also help girls by giving them some money so that they don’t have to go and ask for money from boys.”
When asked if she has any advice for girls in her country, Naica says firmly that she would tell them to stay in school. “I would tell them to hold on, avoid getting pregnant at an early age, become someone in society, and finish their studies so that they can be useful to their parents and themselves.”