Kidnappings of children and women are spiking at alarming rates in Haiti amid gang violence, said the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Monday.
Nearly 300 cases of such kidnappings had been confirmed in the first six months of 2023, almost matching the total number documented for the entire previous year, and close to three times more than in 2021, said UNICEF in a press release.
In most instances, children and women are forcefully taken by armed groups and used for financial or tactical gains. The victims who manage to return home grapple with deep physical and psychological scars, possibly for many years, said the fund.
"The stories we are hearing from UNICEF colleagues and partners on the ground are shocking and unacceptable," said UNICEF regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Garry Conille, in the press release. "Women and children are not commodities. They are not bargaining chips. And they must never be exposed to such unimaginable violence. The growing trend in kidnappings and abductions is extremely worrisome, threatening both the people of Haiti and those who have come to help."
The overall situation in Haiti is catastrophic. Today, an estimated 5.2 million people, or close to half of the entire population, require humanitarian assistance, including almost 3 million children, said UNICEF.
In addition to children and women being taken from the streets and exposed to deep trauma and distress, reports indicate that local health care systems are teetering on the brink of collapse and schools are under attack, keeping civilians under constant terror, it said.
The increase in violence, looting, road blockades, and the pervasive presence of armed groups severely obstruct humanitarian efforts, making it difficult to deliver much-needed aid to affected communities, it added.
UNICEF urgently called for the immediate release and safe return of all those who have been kidnapped in Haiti and reiterated its commitment to delivering critical aid and support for Haitian children who have been impacted by these traumatic events.