UNICEF: Gangs in Haiti are targeting schools and students

UNICEF warned Tuesday that schools in Haiti are increasingly at the mercy of gangs, with children becoming the target of burglary or ransom.

The agency said that at least seven schools in the capital, Port-au-Prince, had been forced to pay unidentified gangs for security over the past two months and that additional institutions had been threatened.

“More and more fear in school means less learning,” UNICEF said. “Gangs are quickly turning temples of knowledge into theaters of violence.”

The warning came a few days after authorities announced that gang members had killed a university professor they had recently kidnapped. Patrice Dernoncourt worked at the School of Social and Political Economics at the University of Notre Dame in Haiti in Port-au-Prince.

In addition, the US and Haitian authorities are still trying to secure the release of 17 missionaries from an American religious organization who were kidnapped on October 16 near the capital. The Mawozo gang kidnapped 400 American and Canadian soldiers and their Haitian driver 16 Americans and its leader threatened to kill them if his demands were not met. The group includes five children, including an eight-month-old baby.

“While we wait for God to provide a solution to these very difficult circumstances, we believe God has heard and hears our prayers,” the Ohio-based Department of Christian Aid said in a statement Tuesday.

Haiti is struggling with a resurgence of gang-related kidnappings, which have subsided following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7, and a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck southwest Haiti in mid-August, killing more than 2,200 people.

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