04/04/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Aid Plan for Haiti Must Focus on the Children

• About half of Haiti's population is under 18: leaders must count them in now for better future
• Education, health, protection of children will be crucial to Haiti's rebuilding plans

Feb. 2, 2010, Port-au-Prince -- As aid workers continue to provide relief to Haiti's quake survivors, Haitian and global leaders as well as international development groups look toward longer-term recovery for the country. However, humanitarian group World Vision urges those designing any "Marshall Plan" for Haiti to prioritize children's best interests as a central focus in rebuilding the country.

"Children make up about half of Haiti's population," said Sian Platt, child protection specialist with World Vision's Global Rapid Response Team. "They aren't just the future of Haiti, they are Haiti now -- and any plan for a recovery must put them at the heart of the recovery."

"For the country's rebuilding efforts and economy to flourish in years to come, leaders and donors must work now to ensure the health, education, rights and protection of Haiti's 'younger half,'" said Platt. "A failure to prioritize children in comprehensive plans now means a missed opportunity to improve Haiti's future development."

World Vision urges the Government of Haiti and its partners to address the basic needs of children in the following key areas for a healthier and more prosperous future for Port-au-Prince and the country as a whole:

Only about two-thirds of Haitian children attend primary school. Fewer than 30 percent reach the sixth grade. Only half of Haitians over the age of 15 can read.

• Prioritize reform of the country's failing educational system, far beyond repairing and reopening schools damaged by the earthquake.
• Give a second chance at real education to out-of-school youth so they can attain functional levels of literacy, numeracy and life skills -- a key need especially in the Port-au-Prince area.
• Aim to establish primary education for all Haitian children. Universal primary education is essential to improving maternal and child health, earning power and preparing a generation of leaders.

Child Health

Haiti has the Western Hemisphere's highest death rates among infants, children under five and new mothers. Malaria, diarrhea, respiratory infections and HIV, all preventable and treatable, are the leading causes of these deaths. More than 22 percent of Haitian children suffer from malnutrition, which can cause permanent physical and brain damage especially in children under 2, debilitating the next generation.

• Ensure access to basic health care at the community level, coupled with adequate nutrition for infants, children and pregnant women, which will have a significant impact in lives saved, according to research by World Visions' Child Health Now campaign.
• Act on research that shows the impact of malnutrition on infants and children under 2 years old and ensure that pregnant mothers and children have complete and full nutrition.
• Provide maternal health services and prenatal care to lay the foundation for healthier communities.

Protection from abuse and exploitation
STATUS: Even before January 2010, more than half a million Haitian children were either orphaned, living on the streets or institutions, or working as domestic servants known as '"restaveks" away from their families. Many received no education and some faced abuse. After the quake, more children were separated from their families and many still don't know if their parents survived. For children without adult caregivers, it is too easy to be left behind -- unable to compete for basic necessities and vulnerable to abuse, neglect and trafficking -- especially following disasters.

• Maintain the current pause on new adoptions long enough to identify, register and trace children, and reunite them with family to avoid permanent separations and reduce the human trafficking risk.
• Promote and fund community-based solutions for separated children maintaining the principles of family unity whenever possible.
• Squarely address long-term issues of child exploitation to ensure that recovery upholds children's best interests and rights. Establish policies and programs that better equip parents and authorities to protect children -- such as providing protection training and mechanisms to prevent, report and respond to abuse and exploitation.

Livelihoods for parents
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line. The average Haitian makes $1,300 a year, and 55 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. Desperate need and unemployment has led to malnutrition and coping strategies that have severely depleted the environment and natural resources.

• Respond to immediate needs in the most appropriate ways, such as cash-for-work programs that repair Haiti's damaged infrastructure while providing income for Haitian adults and their families.
• Assess accurately how best to help people recover their livelihoods, and re-establish their ability to earn and increase incomes. The best protection for children happens when parents can afford to provide for their families' needs.

Disaster Risk Reduction
Much of the damage done by the Jan. 12 earthquake was the result of poor infrastructure and lack of preparation. Haiti is also prone to deadly hurricanes and tropical storms on a regular basis. Better systems to prepare for natural disasters must be a priority at the national and local levels to protect children and their families from needless death, injury and loss of assets.

• Develop community emergency warning systems and expand approaches that help mitigate future natural disasters, like World Vision's watershed protection program on the island of La Gonave
• Integrate disaster preparedness training into school curricula so that children can be empowered to protect themselves and their community members. World Vision's research has shown that children can and should be trained as leaders in their community on disaster preparedness.
• "Build back better" structures (schools, housing, etc.) that can reasonably withstand earthquakes, tropical storms and other disasters. To the extent that it's possible, use locally available materials, including rubble, to protect against future disasters.

With government systems susceptible to corruption, Haiti's leaders can take this opportunity to implement transparency, and its citizens can use this unifying event to mobilize and hold their leaders accountable. Good governance happens when there is strong civil society engagement to hold government accountable.

• Engage Haitian citizens at the grassroots level to influence the plans and institutions that affect their lives, so they can lead and own the reconstruction process.
• Work within communities to build internal accountability for better governance within the state.
• Establish forums where community members -- particularly children and youth -- can support each other, learn about their rights, debate important issues of community concern and freely communicate their preferences to the Haitian government as well as the international community.

Donations to World Vision's Haiti Quake Response can be made by calling 888-56-CHILD, at, or by texting the word "GIVE" to 20222.

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tacking the causes of poverty and injustice. For more information, please visit