Mr. Dan Harris, of ABC News, is to be commended for calling attention to the problem of child slavery. This problem of modern slavery is not, however, unique to Haiti, nor is it confined to children. It will be found anywhere there are vulnerable populations in contact with others of more means willing to exploit them. Sexual slavery has been well documented in Central America, Mexico, Thailand and the Dominican Republic, and conditions perilously close to slavery exist for many undocumented immigrants and migrant laborers in even developed countries such as the U.S. Given how little most Americans understand about Haiti and how this lack of understanding during the early years of AIDS led to stigmatization of Haitians that persists to this day, this is no small point - exploitation of vulnerable people has nothing to do with ethnicity or culture and everything to do with poverty and the survival choices poor people are forced to make.
Building and staffing orphanages and increasing adoptions will not solve the problem, nor will outlawing slavery or human trafficking. Furthermore, slavery is only the tip of the "consequences-of-poverty" iceberg. What about the parents who must send their children to work in fields or in the market because they can't afford to send them to school, or there are no schools available?
Mr. Harris is correct in his analysis that the root cause of the problem is the collapse of the rural economy. After the Haitian revolution, the farmer slaves left the plantations and took to the mountains, accepting a subsistence existence as the price of their freedom. Environmental degradation, erosion, soil depletion, deforestation and large families now threaten that birthright of freedom. In fact, almost all of the horrible things that grab the headlines in Port au Prince can be traced to the non-sustainability of rural life.
Solutions, therefore must address conditions that make rural life insufferable - poor agricultural productivity, lack of education, high maternal and child mortality and lack of health care. Such models do exist. The Global Institute at the University of Miami, which encompasses programs through the Miller School of Medicine and its affiliated charity, Project Medishare recognized early on the importance of addressing these root causes, and for the past decade has been engaged in Haiti's central plateau. Five years ago, thanks to the generous grant from the Green Family Foundation, we took our project to the next level, establishing a continuing system of health care for 72,000 people in three communities - Thomonde, Marmont and Casse-La-Hoye. We are now planning programs in education and agriculture, with a goal of sustainable development and measurable improvements in quality of life. Our experience, therefore, has shown that grass-roots, bottom-up approaches can work. We hope for the day when conditions in rural Haiti will improve so that families will not be forced to give up their children. As the Haitians say, "Lespwa fè viv!" Hope makes us live.