Child story

"Jacques": a former gang member

As part of the World Day Against Child Labour, the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), is getting together with the Haitian daily newspaper “Le Nouvelliste”. The aim is to support 10 young journalists selected by the organization Enpak, for nearly 3 months, in order for them to create articles discussing the various aspects of child labour in Haiti. These articles will be published on a weekly basis, in the newspaper and in IPEC website, as of the 12th June 2014.

News | 16 June 2014
2004-2014, 10 years already that Haiti has gone through its major political crisis, which led to the fall of President Jean Bertrand Aristide. During that troubled period, certain gang leaders did not hesitate to take advantage of the situation by enrolling children to make them participate in illicit activities. Portrait of Jacques (his name has been changed in order to guarantee his protection), a child who led an entire network of children for four years, in the Croix-des-Bouquets zone.

Before 2004, I was a child like all the others. But I began to experience things that most children never go through.”

In 2004, at the age of 9 years old only, Jacques lives with his unemployed mother and his four brothers and sisters, at Croix-des-Bouquets. Abandoned by their father after Jacque’s birth, daily life is hard for this family without resources. During the political crisis, in order to face their economic problems, Jacques, the eldest son decided to join a very famous gang at the time, named “Réseau Ti Elie”.

“Before 2004, I was a child like all the others. But I began to experience things that most children never go through” says Jacques sadly, fidgeting. Just as he was sitting on the sidewalk, as he did every afternoon, his life got turned upside down when a man on a motorbike lost his gun at his feet. Without hesitating, Jacques picked it up. When the man drove back, the boy decided to hand him back his weapon. To thank him, the biker handed him a note of 50 gourdes and shook his hand saying “Welcome to the club”. “These words opened up that world for me… the world of gangsters”, reminisces this 19 year old young man, who never smiles.

Since that day, Jacques regularly met up with Ti Elie and the gang members at the foot of a neighbourhood tree that served as basecamp to plan their upcoming violent acts. Jacques learns how to use a gun, and starts drinking and taking drugs. Becoming more and more active within the network and the gang, he quits school and acquires his “Major Timoun” grade (Child Major), just as chief Ti Elie is called “Major Granmoun” (Adult Major). “Ti Elie, the gang chief is dead; he was like a father to me, a friend, a trainer. He taught me how to do many things in order to insure my security, and he always gave me what I needed: money, food, clothes, and a gun to protect myself” remembers this young man, today only just measuring 1m60.

“Children are the motor of this network. And, they are always innocent to the eyes of the police”

In 2006, Jacques began recruiting other children in his community. Ti Elie is very satisfied with the work of his “protégé” because, the more the children, the stronger the gang becomes. Jacques remembers that Ti Elie often said “the children are the motor of this network. And, they are always innocent to the eyes of the police”. The gang became Jacque’s new family. He goes out with them every night, gun in hand, to guarantee security in the neighbourhood. During daytime, “Major Timoun” and his team insure the dealers get their drug supplies and they also take on the role of weapon carrier during demonstrations or organise the preparation of armed robberies and kidnappings.

With his «new family», Jacques is no longer afraid of anyone in the neighbourhood, neither of the children, nor of the adults. A neighbourhood kid, that had been a victim of Jacques’s behaviour at the time, affirms today: “I was more terrified of Major Timoun’s reactions, than those of Major Granmoun’s. The armed children were much more dangerous than the adults”.

Saved by a police officer

At the age of 12 years old, the young Major Timoun meets Alain (his name has been changed in order to guarantee his protection) an agent from the Corps of Intervention and Maintenance of Order (CIMO), a law enforcement unit from the Haitian National Police, who lives in his community. Every day, Alain invites Jacques into his home to discuss football, play dominos; he uses those moments to ask him questions about his family, his studies and his dreams. Unlike his gang friends, this new friend is very interested in his future. “Fortunately he doesn’t know the life I lead” Jacques regularly reminded himself. The young Major Timoun considers him as his model, and he even starts to dream he wants to become a police man.

I will fight day and night to not fall back into delinquency, in order to become a great police officer that insures security in my country, in my community and of my family.”
Thanks to his long discussions with Alain, Jacques becomes aware of his situation. One night, one of his network chiefs calls him and asks him to transport a weapon for an armed robbery. Jacques remembers: “that night, I was feeling very uneasy. I did not want to participate in that type of action”. Jacques therefore decided to wear shorts so he would not be able to hide the gun. When he arrives at the usual meeting point, one of the men in charge calls him up: “EH! Come take a line before you go out”. Jacques replies “I just had one and I like being in control of the situation, especially when I’m carrying a gun”. Despite his shorts, the gang members desperately but unsuccessfully try to hide his gun as they get more and more frustrated, until Tie Elie intervenes: “Woyyyyy! The young major cannot take the gun today” orders the gang chief. Another network child jumps on the occasion and says with pride: “I am ready for the battlefield, give me the gun!”. This episode was a turning point for Jacques. “Thanks to my friend police officer, I saw this situation as an opportunity to abandon the gang, whilst the other kid saw it as a chance to enter it” considers Jacques.

After having abandoned the gang, Jacques returns to his true family and begins a new life. Two months later, in September 2009, he is very happy to finally go back to school. Despite his setback, he is diligent and attentive. After the earthquake of January 12th 2010, Jacques takes the decision to enter the Christian assembly of Croix-des-Bouquets. Since then, he considers himself as a servant of God. He then takes part in numerous activities within his community: The Christian Squad, a community club, a theatre group. etc. “Everybody makes mistakes in life, but the most important thing to stay strong willed and overcome the challenges” he says smiling. Jacques however, has to face the rumours. A lot of people in his neighbourhood believe that he cannot go from gangster to “model child” in such a short time. He is determined to ignore them however, and wants to prove to everyone that his life has changed.

During his ninth school year, his family was faced with significant economic obstacles, and at the same time, Alain announces that he will be moving to another area of the town. Jacques is forced to quit school but stays hopeful that one day “God will send down a replacement to pay for my studies. I will fight day and night to not fall back into delinquency, in order to become a great police officer that insures security in my country, in my community and of my family.”

Text from: Emmanuela Laventure
For the original online published article, please visit “Le Nouvelliste” website at: