When the Knife Wielding Mugger is Also a Victim
By Amy Rhoades
When a Haitian youngster held a knife to my throat while getting off the bus from the Dominican Republic, in Petion Ville the other day, it was a harsh reminder of what can happen when youth in a displaced population are left to fend for itself.
Here’s the thing: the absence of economic opportunity, skills development and meaningful education for Haitian youth, means that many are descending into a Hobbesian world without moral rules. I survived the attempted mugging unscathed, but needed a few stiff drinks at the nearby hostelry Le Perroquet to regain my equilibrium (but I won’t be taking the bus again anytime soon).
As I write in the current issue of IOM's Migration Policy Practice Journal, there is "increased susceptibility of IDPs to recruitment into gangs, particularly among male youth." In post-earthquake Haiti, tent camps became a breeding ground for the resurgence of gangs and criminal activity, particularly sexual violence. Two factors that contributed to extreme vulnerability to gang recruitment are poverty and social dislocation. Displaced youth and those separated from their families became particularly vulnerable. Gangs often offered a home and a community to those who joined their ranks.
In interviews conducted with soldats (young gang members) from the streets of Port-au-Prince, very few were enrolled in school at the time of recruitment. They cited the element of protection while living on the streets after the earthquake as one of the primary reasons for joining a gang. Ironically they each wore rosaries of a different colour to indicate with which gang they were affiliated to. Many IDPs who lost family members and homes, or became victims of gang violence, often believed that they have no future and thus became more willing to join gangs.
Amy Rhoades is an education and skills development specialist, based on the island of Hispaniola. Email: Amy.Rhoades@gmail.com
- See more at: http://www.iom.int/newsletters/issue22/#knifewielding