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Children often abandoned on smuggling routes, human rights workers say


By Gerardo Reyes

McClatchy Newspapers


CANONGA, Dominican Republic — Hilegia Ramona Fernandez remembers the boy, about 10 years old, asleep by the side of the highway outside a gas station.

"The boy heard my husband's footsteps and woke up," Fernandez said. "He begged him to take him."

The child had come from somewhere in Haiti, five days after the earthquake, and after walking many hours, was overcome by hunger and exhaustion, Fernandez told The Miami Herald.

Richard Fernandez brought the little boy home, not an unusual occurrence at the Fernandez home. Like many residents of towns and farming villages along the paths used by traffickers to bring children from Haiti, the Fernandezes are used to these heart-wrenching encounters.

Human rights workers who monitor child trafficking said finding abandoned kids along smuggling routes is not unusual.

"Often these children are abandoned by hustlers who run away because they are discovered by a military. 'Those of you who can, save yourselves,' they say, and leave them in the bushes or on the roads," said Sister Nidia Victoria Zuluaga, director of San Juan Evangelista congregation in Ouanaminthe, a Haitian border town.

Hilegia Fernandez said her family, who lives in a small brick house about seven miles from the Haitian border, cared for the boy for three months until his behavior became unmanageable.

"The boy would not leave my side for a minute. He would become unruly and start to scream. No one could calm him," Fernandez said.

Fernandez handed him over to Border Solidarity, a nongovernmental organization in Dajabon, whose mission includes caring for abused and neglected kids. The child was subsequently turned over to the juvenile court prosecutors, who help locate relatives or find homes for the children.

Prosecutor Carmen Minaya told the Herald that on one occasion she received a 2-year-old Haitian girl who had been abandoned by smugglers.

A Dominican Army soldier told Minaya that, while changing his motorcycle's flat tire, he heard a cry nearby and went to the scene.

"He found the girl, dehydrated, lying under some bushes," Minaya said. "Doctors guessed she had been there two days."

Fernandez said her family also took care of another child, a 5-year-old they found abandoned in the same area, near the gas station, and faint from hunger. The couple adopted him, raised him and after three years, gave him back to his parents. Now the minor works in Dajabon loading plantains.

"I find him in the market and he comes to me and says, 'Momma, look, take these 50 pesos,'" the woman said.


(c) 2010, The Miami Herald.

Visit The Miami Herald Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.herald.com/.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.