Fighting for the Most Vulnerable: A Conversation with Dr. Ely Thelot

For anyone new to my blog, I started years ago primarily blogging about adoption stories. One of my passions is the support network that I created for Haitian adoptees. The other is furthering the discussion on how to support families who may not want adoption as a first option.

Along with the conversation of adoption, comes the conversation of trafficked children. In many countries, including Haiti, children are trafficked by individuals and organizations. Some end up in international adoptions. Many end up in worse situations.

I am honored that Dr. Ely Thelot took the time to talk to me about his career in fighting trafficking, his greatest success stories, and what we can do to combat trafficking in Haiti. Read our interview below:

Dr. Ely Thelot

You were the previous president of the National Committee of the Trafficking of Persons. How long have you been working in the area of human trafficking, and how did you find that path?

I was the president of the National Committee of the Trafficking of Persons from August 2015 to December 2018. I was nominated by a presidential decree in accordance to a national law for the fight against human trafficking in Haiti. Before becoming the president of the National Committee, I worked as a lecturer at the University of Geneva and a research fellow at Harvard University on humanitarian action, human rights, child protection, and international health.

Fighting human trafficking in Haiti is very difficult. Firstly, because of ignorance. People do not know what human trafficking is. The victims do not know they are victims, and they do not complain. In a lot of cases, the prosecutors, judges, policemen and social workers do not know the law about this transnational crime. Secondly, because of poverty and lack of social protection, victims of human trafficking are generally poor, living with less than USD $ 2 per day. They do not have access to school, food security, healthcare, or decent work. The traffickers use their weakness for recruiting them.

Since its creation in 2015, the Committee has not received concrete support from the central government: no budget, no office, no transportation. Nothing! However, the members of the Committee, my colleagues, were very courageous and motivated to do their best to reduce this plague in Haiti. It was an honor to work with them and offer our services to the vulnerable communities. 

In 2017, you met with the Human Trafficking Institute and the Restavek Freedom organization in D.C. where you explained that trafficking in Haiti happens through forced begging, prostitution, restaveks (child slaves), and cross border trafficking to the Dominican Republic. What are some successful measures that you were able to implement to stop trafficking? 

When I was President  of the National Committee, I made the decision, with the support of some NGO (Non Governmental Organization) partners, to work on some measures to reduce human trafficking cases. We started with measures on awareness. To inform the population, we have created a hotline dedicated to human trafficking issues. It was done directly after Hurricane Mathew in 2016.

We also organized the first national conference on human trafficking in Haiti with those who can directly help. We held trainings for judges, prosecutors, police, and social workers. All these activities contributed to reduce the expansion of human trafficking in the country.

We also worked on measures of protection and assistance:  When we have some cases, we work with NGOs to give assistance to the victims. It can be psychological assistance, legal assistance, or medical assistance. It is very important to make the victims feel like they are safe and protected by the authorities.

Lastly, we worked on measures on prosecution: As President of the National Committee, I developed a relationship with the courts in the 18 jurisdictions. When there was a prosecution for human trafficking, the members of the Committee contributed by a work of advocacy and giving the public information about the process.  

That’s encouraging. Trafficking and adoption are closely related in developing countries. Adoption is a profitable business, and children are often taken from their parents or relinquished for adoption without their parents’ knowledge. For potential adopters, how can they be sure if an adoption is ethical?

Haiti is an important provider of adopted children for USA, Canada, and France. The participants implied in this sector are not all bad people. But, a lot of them are suspected to produce false documents and to receive money for adoptions. The adopters need to ask good information of their embassy, to go to the state institutions in charge of the process, to be careful about the documents they have to sign, to investigate if really the parents of the child for adoption are dead or unknown.   

What has been your biggest challenge in fighting human trafficking?

My biggest challenge in fighting human trafficking was not necessarily the lack of resources or the extreme vulnerability of the victims. I was prepared to face all that. My biggest challenge was the misunderstanding from the political authorities and their absence of interest about human trafficking. It was very difficult to mobilize them with their indifference regarding the suffering of the victims and their ignorance about what Haiti represents in the worldwide history of fighting human trafficking. I hope this situation will change. Because this is the principal advantage the traffickers have in Haiti. 

What has been your greatest success story?

The realization of the first national conference on human trafficking in Haiti, in June 2017, was my greatest success story as the president of the National Committee. The conditions were very difficult because the Committee did not have any funds, any resources. But we had, my team and I, our deep and solid will. We mobilized international partners, like Lumos, USAID, and IOM. They helped us to realize the conference.

During this conference, the national action plan from 2017-2022 was presented and debated by all the many important participants: government representatives, legislative members, and judiciary powers. Today, Haiti has a national action plan for fighting human trafficking because this conference took place. It was a strategic moment in the history of fighting human trafficking in Haiti.   

What can people do outside of Haiti to stop trafficking?  

People outside of Haiti can do a lot to stop trafficking. Particularly in combatting the business of orphanages. It is important to know that this business depends essentially on churches in the USA. It is sad that the values of compassion and charity are used by the traffickers to exploit children in the orphanages. Effectively, they use the misery of the children to ask the churches in USA for money. This money is not really used for education, clothes, food, health to the children, but for making them rich. 

We need people outside of Haiti, in the USA, to go to these churches and to tell the truth to them. They have to stop sending money to traffickers in the orphanages.  

What’s next for you? 

I will continue to work for the respect of human rights and dignity in Haiti and in the world. I will stay open for all collaborations in this sense. My experiences and my knowledge about human trafficking can be helpful for the anyone who wants to eradicate this plague in the world.

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