By Onz Chery
A large crowd circled in front of Cap Deli, a restaurant in Cap-Haitien, on June 18. There was a gloomy silence among them. Some of the people made their way to the front of the crowd, looked down then quickly turned around in horror.
In the middle of the circle, a 14-year-old girl, Mamoune Resy, laid lifeless on the concrete with her arms spread out and a bloodstain on her chest. She was killed by a private security guard because she refused to move at the guard’s order who became enraged when she asked him if he were a police officer.
Street kids’ deaths aren’t often mentioned in Haiti’s news media, but they happen regularly because they get dehumanized and are the first ones to be blamed for theft and other crimes.
Resy sold sweets in the streets and even cleaned cars – a job street boys usually do – to provide for herself and her family, which consists of her mother, an older and a younger sister.
Her 47-year-old mother, Ramonde Pierre, moved out of Plaisance, a hamlet to Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second-largest city, approximately six years ago with her three daughters for safety reasons.
Pierre was initially washing clothes for a living. She fell off a terrace while she was hanging clothes and as a result of it, half of her body got paralyzed.
Since she was no longer able to wash clothes, Pierre began to ask for money in front of the city’s cathedral with her daughters. They live with a street-vendor in a small unkempt room with cardboards on the floor used as beds. Pierre and her daughters often went three to five days without eating.
“I don’t really make money asking in front of the church,” Pierre said. “Sometimes God gets into someone’s mind and I make 25 or 50 gourdes (23 cents in U.S. dollars or 45 cents) then I can buy rice and cook for my kids. But other times, I don’t make anything. We go to sleep hungry and wake up hungry. I resigned myself, I can’t go steal. I just cry. My kids tell me not to.”
In December, while Resy was asking for money a man told her he was going to buy candy for her to sell. She left her mother in front of the cathedral and became more active in the streets, therefore more at risk. Just six months deeper into the wretched street life, Resy died, leaving her family in despair.
“We used to do everything together,” Resy’s older sister, Madelene Demeus, 17, said about her. “I should’ve died instead of her because I’m older.”
Resy is one of the countless children in Haiti who find themselves living in the streets for a variety of reasons. They are abused, shunned, and left to fend for themselves. Some are used as decoy for criminals who send them to approach a target, believing that the sight of a child would lull the target’s sense of danger and then the criminal would roll up on the person gun blazing.
The issue also underscores the precariousness of the Haitian government’s ability to help the most vulnerable population in the country, its young people.
Many of the aid organizations and orphanages have done the complete opposite of helping street kids. They usually malnourish, traffic, and abuse them. The government is now very careful about which aid organizations they welcome.
“The Haitian government is pretty picky about who works with street kids and how that happens because they’re really worried about safety,” Tausha Pearson, Haiti Mama’s founder, said. “It’s just so easy to get manipulated and they don’t know what they’re doing. There are a few government programs, but the street kids just leave every time. There’s still a need there.
“Our social workers go out with the kids and help them find their moms, aunts or uncles or whoever. A lot of times, the families just need food support or housing support.”
Haiti Mama has been successfully reuniting street kids with their families and assisting them since 2014. Stanley ‘Baby’ Jean, a 17-year-old former street kid, whom Haiti Mama has provided a home to, saw the dead bruised body of a street kid laying in the streets once. Jean said the boy was beaten up then killed because of theft. He also heard of other street kids who were killed, one he grew up with.
Jean’s family in Jacmel thought he died in the streets because that’s a street boy’s possible outcome. But the police brutality the teenager experienced was minor compared to others. A cop hit him with his baton because he was playing a street gambling game. Jean said a security officer also smacked him because he didn’t know who stole a lady’s purse.
As for emotional mistreatment from strangers, Jean experienced a handful of that. Even though he never stole.
“Oh, I always got that in the streets,” Jean said about emotional abuse. “When I was in the streets, they used to call me thief. They gave me every bad name you can think of. When you’re a street kid they will give you those bad names. For some, they deserve those names but not all. I’m honestly telling you that, not all. But I got some bros who are in gangs too.”
Before Jean joined the streets, his mother died and he was sent to his aunt’s house. His uncle attempted to beat him one night, so he ran away from home at 13. Similar to Jean’s story, many other kids ran to the streets because they were abused by family members or people they work for as a restavek, a child who lives with a family as a servant
Elsewhere, The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported that six street kids “were picked up by police and then later found dead” in Port-au-Prince in 2002. Later in 2017, a street boy, Yvenel, who started working as a food deliverer in Port-au-Prince was shot in the leg by a police officer as he was on his way to make a delivery. The cops knew he was a street kid hence thought he stole the motorcycle, Pearson said. Yvenel survived but was jailed for two years.
Their lives, possibly their parents’ lives too, depend on their hustle or theft. As in Resy’s case, Haiti Mama said that most street kids have parents. But they can’t support them because they’re not able to work due to a disability, illness, lack of education, or simply can’t find a job.
Jean cleaned cars on the streets for a living and slept in a park with other street boys. Some other street kids live in cemeteries, a powerhouse for black magic, which makes them a target to Vodou attacks.
Vodou spells, the police, and security officers aren’t street kids’ only attackers but also themselves. Street boys frequently get into fights with each other that involve rocks, broken pieces of glass, bricks, and the like.
Jean was hit in the head with a cemented brick during one of his fights and has the scars from broken pieces of glass as a reminder of the dangers street kids face. He never went to the hospital for treatments. All of Haiti Mama’s boys have scars. That’s just their reality.
The older street boys bully the younger ones, sometimes they do it because they’re drunk or high of drugs. At night, street kids often prank those who are sleeping by torturing them.
One of the most painful methods of torture they inflict on each other is the kat pedal, which translates to four pedals from Creole. Kat pedal is when they burn a plastic bottle and place it at the bottom of their fellow street boy’s feet. They sleep with their sandals in their hands out of fear that it would get stolen, but it makes them more susceptible to kat pedal.
“Seeing one kid get shot was like nothing from all the things that they’ve seen in their lives,” Pearson said based on the counseling sessions of two boys who witnessed a friend’s death. “They’ve been through so much trauma, all the street kids they really have been through everything – crazy.”
The fearlessness built up from the load of traumas they’ve been through is good at times, but it often comes back to haunt them. For example, Resy wasn’t afraid to talk back to the armed security guard which cost her her life. Jean also confronted many security officers who told him to stop hustling in front of the premise they were guarding.
The ultimate way to prevent children from experiencing the dangers of the streets is by enhancing employment for their parents and provide more affordable education. Sadly enough, for a third world country that’s easier said than done.