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The three children told reporters from El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald that they left Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with the help of a smuggler after the January earthquake devastated the city. Today, the children sell boiled eggs for 10 cents all day, walking in the sun along Duarte Avenue, a bustling runway for juvenile prostitution in the heart of Boca Chica, where newly arrived Haitian girls sashay, offering their bodies to gray-haired tourists.
The story of Maria and her cousins has become commonplace: Since the earthquake more than 7, boys and girls have been smuggled out of their homeland to the Dominican Republic by traffickers profiting on the hunger and desperation of Haitian children and their families. In , the figure was , according to one human rights group that monitors child trafficking at 10 border points. Several smugglers told the newspaper that they operate in cahoots with crooked officers in both countries — their versions verified by a UNICEF report and child advocates on both sides of the border.
Leaders in both nations, following the catastrophic earthquake that killed an estimated , people, pledged to protect children from predatory smuggling, a historic problem. But the newspaper found that the trafficking of children remains, with reporters witnessing smugglers carrying children across a river, handing them to other adults, who put the kids on motorcycles and speed off to shantytowns.
Border guards, charged with preventing this very operation, witnessed the incidents and never reacted, the reporters found. Dominican President Leonel Fernandez did not respond to interview requests, but his office sent an email, saying that the government has intensified border security, prosecutions and sanctions against smugglers.
But Dominican immigration records show it has only made two convictions since And children are brought into the Dominican Republic a month through different northern border crossings by a loose network of dealers, according to figures from Jano Sikse Border Network, or RFJS, which monitors human rights abuses along the border.