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Extreme Hunger in Haiti Forcing Children into Armed Gangs—Save the Children

PORT-AU-PRINCE (May 8, 2024)—Hunger is forcing children in Haiti to join violent gang groups, with Save the Children receiving reports of some children killing, kidnapping, and looting for food. 

The child rights organization is hearing of an increasing number of children being driven to desperate measures to be able to feed themselves as Haiti grapples with record high hunger levels amid spiraling lawlessness and climate disasters. 

Violence involving gangs and armed groups has jumped by over 140% so far this year compared to 2021, according to Save the Children’s analysis of data from ACLED.[1]

Between January and March this year, at least 82 children have been reported killed or injured by gang violence, a 55% increase compared to the last quarter of 2023, marking the most violent period for children in the country on record, according to UN-verified data. Of the 82 children reported killed or injured, almost half were hit by bullets during violent gang attacks or clashes between gangs and the police.

Between 30% to 50% of armed groups in Haiti currently have children within their ranks, according to the UN. Many of these children have been forced to join armed groups, while others have joined as a measure of survival. 

Haiti is currently grappling with record-high hunger levels, with one in two children in the country facing acute food insecurity as gang violence has sparked food shortages. 

Jules Roberto, Save the Children’s Food and Livelihood Advisor in Haiti, said:  

“The hunger situation is so desperate our staff are hearing stories of children joining deadly gangs just so they can get food to eat—putting their lives and futures at risk. Unaccompanied children are at the greatest risk of recruitment. A hungry belly does not have ears—it will go where it can get food, even if that means killing and looting for it.

“Most children and families we’re speaking to are struggling to even find one meal a day, and often eat expired food. Single mothers have also told our teams that they were considering or have done sex work to support their children.

“If permanent support in displacement camps is not prioritized and scaled up, it will create a breeding ground for gangs to lure the most vulnerable children into recruitment."

With gangs controlling more than 90% of Port-au-Prince, families are struggling to find and afford nutritious food. Since January, the price of a food basket in the capital has soared by 21%.  

Save the Children is calling on world leaders to protect the most marginalized children in Haiti from recruitment and use by armed groups, and on UN Security Council members to use their power to end impunity for those responsible for the unlawful recruitment and use of children and other grave violation against children. The child right’s organization is also calling on all parties in Haiti to allow immediate, sustained, and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief, and on the international community to urgently increase humanitarian funding for the crisis in Haiti. 

Save the Children has been working in Haiti since 1978, in both urban and rural communities, providing cash so families can buy essentials, and delivering health and nutrition support, and supporting children in schools.


[1] Based on an analysis of violent events captured in the ACLED database where at least one of the named actors was a gang, armed group, or militia, excluding domestic and foreign government forces. There has been an average of 131 such events per month in 2024, compared to 54 in 2021 and 93 last year.  

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