Human Trafficking A Concern In Light Of Haiti Quake

As the cleanup continues in Haiti following a massive earthquake, a new crisis is emerging. According to UNICEF, 15 children have been kidnapped from a hospital in Haiti and there is concern the number could grow.

Haiti was already on the U.S. State Department's special-case list for serious human trafficking problems. Its latest annual "Trafficking in Persons Report" noted a sharp increase in the number of Haitian children trafficked for sex and labor in 2008.

Government figures estimated up to 300,000 Haitian children between the ages of 6 and 14 are currently working as domestic servants. The children are sent away by their families to live in wealthier areas with the hope they will be fed and educated by their "hosts." However, they are often physically or sexually abused.

In the 1990s, ABC cameras caught children being taken out of Haiti by bus with promises of a better life, but reporter James Quinones showed where they ended up.

"These are the children of the sugar cane fields, kidnapped and forced to work in neighboring Dominican Republic," reported Quinones.

Before the earthquake, there were 200,000 orphans in Haiti. Now the numbers overwhelm workers and concern human rights agencies.

Potential victims of trafficking are more vulnerable after natural disasters. Perpetrators, traffickers are always looking for who's the vulnerable, according to Fernando Garcia, a human trafficking expert with the Association of the Americas.

Garcia was recently in San Diego with a warning for child advocacy agencies. "We should be on the lookout for what's going to happen after natural disasters."

A U.S. State Department document released after the Indonesian tsunami read:

"There were sporadic reports of rape, sexual abuse, kidnapping and trafficking in persons in the countries devastated by the tsunami. Thousands of orphaned children were vulnerable to exploitation by criminal elements seeking profit from their misery."

"Many people in vulnerable populations in that part of the world became victims of human trafficking," said Garcia.

In addition to human trafficking, victims are forced into labor or servitude, or part of illegal adoptions, sex tourism and sexual exploitation.

After the tsunami, the U.S. government established guidelines for officials and volunteers in disaster areas to help protect the powerless and homeless.

Last week, UNICEF announced it was working with adoption agencies in Haiti to get orphaned children into so-called "safe zones," to help prevent them from falling through the elusive security net and into the hands of human traffickers.