Haiti’s children were vulnerable even before the devastating earthquake last month. Most had poor health care and little education. And many were exploited as child “restaveks,” or slaves. Marco Werman talks E. Benjamin Skinner who is the author of “A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face with modern-day slavery”. Skinner is also a fellow at Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights. Download MP3
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MARCO WERMAN: Haiti’s children were vulnerable even before the earthquake. Most had poor health care and little education, and many were exploited as child slaves. E. Benjamin Skinner is the author of “A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery”. Mister Skinner is currently in Davos, Switzerland, where he attended the World Economic Forum. Ben, you’re very familiar with the problem of child slavery in Haiti. Give us the overview. Where do you think Haiti was in terms of child slavery as of January 11, 2010, the day before this earthquake hit?
BENJAMIN SKINNER: The problem of child slavery in Haiti was an enormous one even before the earthquake. In terms of gross numbers, Haiti has more slaves than any other country in the Western Hemisphere. To be clear, first of all, about terminology, slaves are those forced to work, held through fraud under the threat of violence with no pay beyond subsistence. In Haiti, what we’re talking about is a very particular form of child domestic slavery. This takes place when desperately impoverished, socially isolated rural parents give their children to traffickers in hopes that their children will be able to find a better life and some degree of education. In fact, what often happens is these children wind up in brutal domestic bondage.
WERMAN: In your book, “A Crime so Monstrous,” which came out 2008, you undertook a grizzly experiment finding out how long it would take to go to Haiti from Mid-Town Manhattan and return with a procured child slave. Tell us about what you did there.
SKINNER: What I did was essentially was went to a place on the street in Port au Prince, Haiti and this place was five hours by plane and by automobile from what I consider to be the center of the moral universe, the U.N. Secretariat in Manhattan. Five hours from there on the street in broad daylight, I pulled up in a car. I rolled down a window, and a man came over and said, “Do you want to get a person?” And at that point, we began to negotiate. I made it clear that I wanted a child, a 12-year-old girl to cook, to clean, to do domestic work. And at a certain point the trafficker leaned in and said, “This is rather a delicate question, but do you want this child as a partner as well as a domestic?” And when he asked that question, my translator made it perfectly clear what he was asking. I said, “Is it possible to have this child as a sexual slave as well as a domestic slave?” And he said, “Oui, no problem.” The asking price for this child, a 12-year-old girl for a domestic and a sexual slave was $100. And within two minutes I negotiated this child down to $50 U.S. Dollars.
WERMAN: Now, obviously you didn’t purchase this slave.
SKINNER: That’s true.
WERMAN: How easy would it have been to have made the purchase, get the child on a plane and brought them back to New York City?
SKINNER: I’m glad you underscored that. Throughout my travels, I negotiated the sale of human beings on four continents, but I never paid for human beings. To do so would be in my estimation to give rise to a trade in human misery. In many other instances, I was under cover and in this instance, I was completely open about my intention to talk to him about his work. But at the time, there was no law against human trafficking in Haiti. And so he was operating in broad daylight without any fear of reprisal or any fear of prosecution. He said he could make the papers to make it look as if I’d adopted the children. I didn’t put that to the test, but as I found out through talking to the H.S. officials, through talking to FBI officials and very sadly through talking to survivors, it is quite possible to traffic those children into the United States.
WERMAN: You were in Haiti right after the earthquake, Ben. There will surely be more orphan children in Haiti and I’m sure you saw some already, the population growing there. Based on what you did see, do you think there are going to be more of these so-called resteveks, these children who are brought in from the country essentially to work in salve conditions in the city?
SKINNER: I think there is no question that what has occurred in Haiti on January 12th and the subsequent major after shock has created a whole nation within a nation of orphans. And what you will see increasingly is not only the orphans, but desperate parents who were already struggling to survive and are that much more down the scale of human needs giving their children away in order to allow their children some degree of survivability. Whatever markets they had for their crops are going to be that much more decimated, and they will therefore be that much more vulnerable to the lure of traffickers who come in and say, “Mommy, poppy, I know your children is starving. I know your child is dying of a preventable disease here. Give me your child and I will give that child a better life.”
WERMAN: E. Benjamin Skinner is the author of, “A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face With Modern-Day Slavery.” He’s also a fellow at Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights. Thank you for your time.
SKINNER: Thanks, Marco.
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