LEOGANE, Haiti – Emerson Lajoie is ashamed to go to his mother’s house. The 14-year-old born to a United Nations peacekeeper has become hardened to the stream of insults of neighbors, but his heart is not made of stone.
“They say my mother was a prostitute. That is what I am used to hearing,” Lajoie says.
His mother, who is homeless, unemployed and sick with tuberculosis, returns from the hospital with a heavy cough.
She was unable to get X-rayed because she did not have the five dollars the medical center charges for the tests.
Nor can she pay for her son to go to a private school ($95 a year), after he failed to secure place in the state Leogane academy.
The impoverished city with small houses and unpaved streets is 45 kilometers west of Port-au-Prince.
Lajoie spends the day watching the hours tick along in a one-bedroom house he shares with his aunt. The home has fragile wood walls, a tin roof and bed.
When the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Minustah) was in operation, a large number of blue helmets in Leogane were Sri Lankan.
Around 17,904 soldiers were appointed to the mission between 2004-2017 to provide security to a nation dominated by violent gangs after a coup d’etat toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
According to Leogane residents, when the Sri Lanka flag was lowered in 2015, the city had a high number of piti Minustah, a derogatory term in Creole to label the children the blue helmets fathered but left behind.
“You are criticized for being the daughter of a foreigner. It is an insult,” says Marie Ange Haitis, mother of Samantha, 11.
“When I lived in Nan Kolin, they called me piti Minustah,” the little girl adds.
“I feel humiliated because I have no father.”
When the peace mission ended a trail of controversy was left in its wake.
The blue helmets were notorious for their use of violence and sexual abuse.
The Nepalese troops unwittingly wrecked the image of the peace mission by bringing with them a cholera epidemic that caused at least 9,500 deaths.
“Emerson sometimes can’t even walk with his friends. ‘Fuck him for being a son of the Minustah. Fuck his mother for making him a child of the Minustah!’” said Bijou Linda, the young man’s aunt, recalling some of the insults he has to deal with.
Lajoie has to live with the torment of others accusing his mother of being a prostitute. But she genuinely believed the soldier she would visit was “someone with whom she could make a life.”
SEX FOR FOOD
Haitis met Samantha’s father at a community day at the Minustah base in Christmas 2007, and from then on they met frequently during the six months he was stationed in Haiti.
“He came to see me at home and called me if he wanted to give me something. He gave me things to eat: bread, jam … he didn’t give me money,” she recalls.
She fell pregnant but the soldier left soon after and she never heard from him again.
Many women, spurred by hunger and misery, went to the base of Leogane to look for food. Soldiers demanded sex in return.
“The Minustah soldiers worked like this: you walk down the street, they call you. When you think they are going to give you something to live or to eat, they talk to you about sex. The person lives in misery, so when he offers you something, with resignation you take it,” says Bijou Linda.
On the floor of one of the barracks at the base, a mattress rests on the ground, a reminder of the soldiers and their demands.
LACK OF REPORTS OF ABUSE
The sexual scandals of the Minustah are no secret.
The UN has documented 116 reports of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation in Haiti since 2007, which includes rape and paying for sex, including with minors.
At least 33 of these encounters resulted in the birth of children.
However, a UN source who requested anonymity said the true number of pregnancies is unknown since many women have not reported them.
A recent study by Professors Sabine Lee and Susan Bartels collects 265 stories of children abandoned by blue helmets in the Caribbean country, although many of these cases were hard to verify and could be duplicated.
The largest number of cases collected is in Port Salud, a coastal town in southwestern Haiti, where the blue helmets of Uruguay were deployed.
In Port-au-Prince, the bulk of troops were from Brazil, the country that led the mission.
FORGET YOUR FATHER
The mothers left behind have received no financial aid, since the blue helmets returned to their home countries.
The only exception is Haitis, who received compensation, a single payment of $45,200 paid for by the government of Sir Lanka after she filed a complaint with the UN office.
The money vanished quickly, to settle debts, day-to-day expenses and to recover from Hurricane Matthew, which in 2016 demolished her house and forced her to live under a banana tree with her daughter.
The financial aid came with a condition.
“They asked me to tell Samantha that she has no father,” she mused.
“Samantha lives with a lot of stress. She says that other children have parents she would like to have. Every foreigner she sees reminds her of her father.”
The money has now been spent and they continue to live in poverty in a humble rural home with no bathroom, drinking water, electricity or gas.
Haitis earns some money selling chickens that she raises in the yard.
The money has not been enough to pay for Samantha’s education in the last two years.
A FRUITLESS FIGHT
Women’s efforts to achieve some alimony have been fruitless both in Haitian courts and abroad. The first problem is the silence of victims.
The UN urges women to speak since the agency can offer medical, psychological and legal support (including the collection of DNA samples) and also serves as a liaison body with the countries soldiers hail from.
But the ultimate legal responsibility, the UN source says, lies with the parents.
Forty-one investigations have been launched for abuse and sexual exploitation in some of the countries soldiers came from, although not all of them related to paternity cases.
Of those, 12 soldiers have been sentenced to jail and one was handed financial sanctions, according to UN data, which does not disclose the nationalities of the blue helmets.
The picture is even less encouraging in the Haitian judicial system, “the most corrupt in the world,” according to lawyer Mario Joseph, head of the International Lawyers Office (BAI).
Joseph has assumed the defense of 10 women and has filed complaints with the Haitian courts to obtain alimony and also to hold the UN responsible for its role in the deployment of troops.
But he has been waiting for an answer for more than a year, despite the fact the law requires judging child support claims within 24 hours.
“Haitian judges do not want to come forward,” he laments.
They have a “terrible” fear of blue helmets, politics and power.