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Children become human collateral in smuggling trade

Images

By Gerardo Reyes

McClatchy Newspapers

(MCT)

SAN CRISTOBAL, Dominican RepublicJean Marie Cherven recalls how a smuggler kept his daughter for two weeks because he was unable to pay the final installment to move the child from Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic.

"I told the smuggler that I had no money, and he told me that he would not give me the girl and might abandon her on a mountain," said Cherven, indicating it cost $110 to smuggle his child out of the Haitian capital, where she lived with her grandmother until the house collapsed during January's killer earthquake.

In the world of child smuggling, children like Estelencia Merici, 6, become human collateral to guarantee payments. Other children whose parents can't pay are abandoned, even sold.

Cherven and his wife, Cerette Ferjuste, detailed their odyssey to get back their daughter, a story shared in this area by other Haitian families who moved to this town for work. After the earthquake, they found themselves desperate to get their kids out of Port-au-Prince. Estelencia's parents, who settled here before the earthquake, hired a smuggler — nicknamed 'To' — because they knew him from their old neighborhood.

The family agreed to pay $110 to ferry Estelencia. Cherven took a down payment of $27 to the smuggler, with the balance paid upon delivering Estelencia to her family in their barrio, La Penca, about 13 miles west of Santo Domingo. The couple live here with their two other children in a small tin-roofed house.

But the smuggler refused to deliver the child after Cherven, who was then unemployed, said he could not borrow more money.

Estelencia said the smuggler took her across a river, likely the Massacre. He took her on a bus to a place where she had to walk for several hours to a town. "But I did not eat," Estelencia said.

The little girl said she got yelled a lot by some adults, and could never go outside the different houses she stayed in: "I was all the time inside the house, they only gave me bread and water."

Her parents said they tried desperately to borrow money to get her released, but couldn't. The trafficker relented and turned the girl over to her parents, thin, sick and emaciated in Santo Domingo last May. "To" still is demanding to be paid.

Jousep Pierre, the couple's next-door neighbor, faced a similar crisis. For four days, a smuggler detained in Dajabon her two sons, Wycleff, 5, and Jemsy, 7.

The children lived with their father, Lito, in Port-au-Prince, but he died during the January earthquake. A wall collapsed and crushed him inside a house where he did construction. The widow paid a smuggler — known as "Clotel" — a $15 down payment to bring her boys. But when Pierre could not cover the balance, $55, Clotel held the kids.

Pierre said she pleaded with the smuggler, who decided to release her boys. Pierre said she still owes Clotel money and he continues to press for it. But Pierre said she has more pressing problems: Her son Jemsy swallowed a screw recently and she cannot afford to take him to a hospital.

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(c) 2010, The Miami Herald.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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