By Onz Chery
Along Haiti’s southeast, about 25 miles from Jeremie, lies the mountainous town of Beaumont. The small palm tree-lined town of 12,486 inhabitants is a beacon for families from surrounding villages looking to educate their children. But lately, it has become a nightmare. That town is where at least 84 high schoolers became pregnant, most of them when schools shut down between April and August because of the novel coronavirus.
Gerald Guillaume, a coordinator with anti-child trafficking group Idette, said some of the students got impregnated from having consensual sexual relationship with other minors but in most cases, prominent men coerced less fortunate women and girls in the area.
“The girls who came from rural areas to attend school were vulnerable,” Guillaume said. “They couldn’t handle the pain of being hungry anymore, and that was an opportunity for men to take advantage of them and abuse them sexually.”
Sexual abuse and sexual assault of women and girls have reached crisis levels in Haiti. Just two weeks ago, FIFA banned Haiti’s ex-soccer president Yves ‘Dadou’ Jean-Bart from the sport after he was found guilty of sexually coercing players, including several minors. More Haiti soccer officials and some male athletes are suspected of abusing players.
However, during times of humanitarian crisis such as war, famine and pandemics, the number of abuses tends to increase significantly, followed by a rise in unintended pregnancies, according to human rights advocates. In April 2020, UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, predicted 7 million unintended pregnancies in low and middle-income countries during the first six months of the pandemic.
In Haiti, the prediction has come to pass in towns like Beaumont. It appears as if Idette is on pace to record more sexual abuse cases of minors in the Grand’Anse department, where Beaumont is located. In 2019, Idette documented 114 cases of rapes on minors across the region’s 13 communes. As of mid-April, the organization has recorded over 30 rape cases involving minors.
In Beaumont, several human rights groups responded to the crisis, including Idette whose officials are still counting how many high schoolers were impregnated during the pandemic. As of late November, Idette had identified 84 pregnant students between the ages of 14 and 23, according to Guillaume. Nearly half the students, 41, are minors who were impregnated by men between the ages of 22 and 60. The students are from eight area schools.
Their pregnancies came to light when school reopened in late August. Officials at Beaumont’s Prophecy High School noticed they were missing several girl students. They began asking questions, then the human rights organizations and governmental groups took over. In addition to Idette, the Office of Citizens’ Protection (OPC), Social Welfare and Research Institute (IBESR), Care Haiti and Sofa have also investigated the crisis.
Some of the groups have sent letters to the Haitian government seeking assistance, including education and programs to prevent teen pregnancies. Guillaume said they have not heard back yet.
In all, students from eight schools were found to be pregnant. Several have given birth to children conceived during the lockdown, Guillaume said.
A few contacted by Idette declined to speak with The Haitian Times for this article, out of fear for their safety and for their children’s wellbeing. Messages to the Haitian government’s ministry of women’s affairs have not yet been returned either.
Meanwhile, people from Beaumont continue to sound the alarm about the girls and the suspected predators respectively.
Jeudy Jean Baptiste, the son of a judge of peace in the commune, Arnold, impregnated at least two students, including Beaumont’s High School of the Prophecy’s principal’s daughter.
Jean Anel Derosier, the principal, told AyiboPost, a news outlet, that Baptiste, 29, threatened his daughter and another student to have sex with him.
“My daughter told me that [the judge’s son] used a weapon to force her to have sex with him,” Derosier said. “And he did the same to one of my students.”
Derosier also denounced the perpetrators on radio and said that some town judicial officials are turning a blind eye because of their close relationships with suspected abusers. Arnold Baptiste admitted that his son impregnated Derosier’s daughter, according to AyiboPost.
“There’s more than 15 complaints of rape and sexual abuse against him [Jeudy Jean Baptiste],” Guillaume said. “He’s enjoying impunity because his father is a justice.”
The justice system has yet to step in. Some authorities have even accused Derosier of lying about the sexual abuse cases, Fabienne Anty, a Sofa project manager who conducted an initial investigation on the crisis, said.
“When you talk to some people they say that the principal [Derosier] is looking for an economic capital, a social capital, that he’s looking for organizations to help his school,” Anty said. “That’s not true, I’ve met parents, I’ve met victims.”
Also, some authorities do not want Grand’Anse to have a bad name, so they try to suppress the news, Anty said.
Meanwhile, girls and women continue to be violated on a regular basis by prominent men, their own relatives among them.
“A lot of times those children are victims of impunity because there’s no justice,” Guillaume said. “I wish the justice system would do its part.”