Several thousand people, many with their faces covered to conceal their identities, marched through Haiti’s capital on Monday demanding protection from violent gangs who are pillaging neighborhoods in the capital Port-au-Prince and beyond.
“We want security!” the crowd chanted as it marched for two hours from the troubled community of Carrefour-Feuilles to Champ de Mars in the downtown area and then to the prime minister’s official residence, where police broke up the demonstration with tear gas.
Protesters responded by setting fire to tires and a state-owned vehicle.
The number of kidnappings of women and children is increasing in Haiti as gang violence worsens, with the number of abductions in the first half of 2023 already nearly reaching last year’s total, claims the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in a statement on Monday that states that close to 300 kidnappings were reported in the first six months of the year.
Most often, the women and children were taken by armed groups “for financial or tactical gains”, said the agency. It called for the immediate release of those kidnapped.
“Women and children are not commodities. They are not bargaining chips. And they must never be exposed to such unimaginable violence,” Garry Conille, UNICEF’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said in the statement.
“The growing trend in kidnappings and abductions is extremely worrisome, threatening both the people of Haiti and those who have come to help.”
“Women and children are not commodities. They are not bargaining chips.”@UNICEF reports an alarming spike in crimes, especially kidnapping, of women and children; calls for the immediate release and safe return of all those who have been takenhttps://t.co/gRxUWfbTYf
— UN News (@UN_News_Centre) August 7, 2023
Gang violence has been on the rise across Haiti — particularly in the capital Port-au-Prince — after the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise worsened widespread political instability.
The UN said in November that armed gangs controlled large swathes of the capital, where they carried out murders, kidnappings and sexual violence in an effort to expand their influence and “terrorise” residents.
Healthcare facilities have been forced to temporarily close as a result of the violence, and thousands of people have fled their homes.
“I have witnessed the remarkable resilience of Haitian children, women and families as they face seemingly insurmountable challenges, refusing to surrender,” UNICEF’s Conille said on Monday.
“However, their bravery is being met with increasing, unthinkable terror. It must stop now.”
The UN agency’s statement came days after United States nurse Alix Dorsainvil and her daughter were abducted near Port-au-Prince, spurring protests and calls for their release.
Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN, UNICEF.