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BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic – After several days of going hungry, Maria said she surrendered to sexual propositions made by several men in the park where she begged in this resort town in the south of the Dominican Republic.
Maria, 12, said she had sex with “many” of those men, sometimes for a dollar, while her cousins, 13 and 10, begged European and American tourists for coins.
“I was hungry, I lost everything; we didn’t know what to do,” said Maria, explaining her decision to sell her body on the streets of Boca Chica, Dominican Republic.
The three children told reporters from El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald that they left Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with the help of a smuggler after the January earthquake devastated the city.
Today, the children sell boiled eggs for 10 cents all day, walking in the sun along Duarte Avenue, a bustling runway for juvenile prostitution in the heart of Boca Chica, where newly arrived Haitian girls sashay, offering their bodies to gray-haired tourists.
The story of Maria and her cousins has become commonplace: Since the earthquake more than 7,300 boys and girls have been smuggled out of their homeland to the Dominican Republic by traffickers profiting on the hunger and desperation of Haitian children and their families. In 2009, the figure was 950, according to one human rights group that monitors child trafficking at 10 border points.
Several smugglers told the newspaper that they operate in cahoots with crooked officers in both countries — their versions verified by a UNICEF report and child advocates on both sides of the border.
“All the officials know who the traffickers are, but don’t report them. It is a problem that is not going to end because the authorities’ sources of income would dry up,” said Regino Martinez, a Jesuit priest and director of the Border Solidarity Foundation in Dajabon, a Dominican border town.
Martinez has denounced the problem from the pulpit, to community groups and to the heads of CESFRONT, the Dominican Republic’s Specialized Corps for Borderland Security.
Leaders in both nations, following the catastrophic earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 people, pledged to protect children from predatory smuggling, a historic problem.
But the newspaper found that the trafficking of children remains, with reporters witnessing smugglers carrying children across a river, handing them to other adults, who put the kids on motorcycles and speed off to shantytowns. Border guards, charged with preventing this very operation, witnessed the incidents and never reacted, the reporters found.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive acknowledged there has been a lack of political will to tighten the porous 370-kilometre border between both nations, which he called a “no man’s land and an opening for bigger trafficking.”