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Haiti: Thousands of pregnant women at risk amid violence

March 9, 2024

The UN has warned that pregnant women and those who survived sexual assault could face healthcare challenges as gang attacks paralyze the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.

Pedestrians run past an armored police car in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, March 7, 2024.
Violence against women, including mass rape, has been widely reported in Haiti's capital Image: Odelyn Joseph/AP Photo/picture alliance

Some 3,000 pregnant women in Haiti's capital could be cut off from essential healthcare if the ongoing security crisis continues, with gang violence surging as armed gangs control most of Port-au-Prince.

"If greater Port-au-Prince remains at a standstill in the coming weeks, almost 3,000 pregnant women could be denied access to essential health care," the UN's office in Haiti (BINUH) said in a statement on Friday.

Abortion is illegal in Haiti. Hospitals have issued warnings regarding staff, bed and blood shortages.

Haiti: Gang violence triggers food and water shortages

What did the UN say?

The office also warned that almost 450 women could face life-threatening obstetric complications if they do not receive medical assistance. Meanwhile, over 500 sexual violence survivors are at risk of being cut off from medical care by late March.

"Sexual violence against women and girls is used as a weapon of war, intimidation, territorial control and domination," BINUH said.

UN's Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ulrika Richardson added that many women and girls were "victims of indiscriminate violence committed by armed gangs."

"Fighting to stop violence against women in Haiti and investing in them is indispensable for ensuring a just, prosperous and peaceful society," she added.

The UN office said partner organizations who work on preventing gender violence in camps for internally displaced people had cut or halted most of their services, citing safety reasons.

Gangs are reported to be carrying out mass rapes across the country, with their control expanding. Many victims do not report the attacks, fearing retaliation.

What is happening in Haiti?

Haiti's government announced on Thursday the extension of a state of emergency and nighttime curfew in an effort to curb the gang violence that has engulfed the capital. The state of emergency was extended by one month.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry was in Kenya last week to lobby for UN-backed police deployment in his country. Henry is now reportedly stuck in Puerto Rico, unable to return home.

Violence has spiraled in the Caribbean nation in his absence, with the gangs demanding his resignation.  

Last weekend, inmates from two major prisons in Haiti escaped in a prison break, resulting in the country announcing a state of emergency. The decree was signed by Finance Minister Michel Patrick Boisvert, who is the acting president.

"Our goal is to break the system. We are fighting against Ariel with the last drop of our blood," said gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer who vowed to oust Henry, said.

Haiti gang leader warns of 'civil war'

The United Nations estimates that 1,193 people have died since the beginning of the year due to gang violence. Over 313,000 people are also internally displaced in Haiti.

In addition to widespread accounts of rape, there have also been many reports of torture and ransom kidnappings. 

rmt/wd (AFP, Reuters)