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NGOs are offering fake guns as gifts in Haiti. These toys are no longer popular.


« Given the situation in the country, entrusting a toy gun to a child is the last thing I would have considered, » a parent told AyiboPost, in an uncompromising tone

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Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are providing toy weapons to the Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBESR) every year, according to employees of the state structure.

On Saturday, March 9, 2024, people rushing to flee the Marie Jeanne High School and other places to escape the terror raging in the lower part of Port-au-Prince, invaded the institution’s premises.

Institut Bien-etre social Haiti

View of the entrance to the Institut of Social Welfare and Research during the arrival of displaced persons on March 9, 2024 © Jean Feguens Regala/AyiboPost.

The IBESR was also looted in this context, and members of the population took away several crates of toy weapons, which they unceremoniously destroyed.

According to experts, this destruction reflects a shift in the relationship between parents and weapons in the country, which has already been under the weight of chronic insecurity for years.

Toys in the shape of weapons were discovered destroyed in the IBESR courtyard, which has become a camp for displaced people fleeing gang violence in lower Port-au-Prince.

« These boxes of toys, which also contain fake weapons and handcuffs, are provided to us by NGOs every December to be distributed to children’s institutions, orphanages, among others, » Théodore, an employee of the institution, told AyiboPost.

The crates, he says, sometimes contain small boxes of 50 to a hundred weapons.

« But we never give them to the children, » Théodore continues, insisting on using his first name. We tend to store them when we’re not destroying them, » he says.

On a chair in the IBESR courtyard, one of the toys in the shape of a weapon was found destroyed, which has become a camp for displaced people fleeing gang violence in the lower town of Port-au-Prince.

Although the sudden rise in insecurity in recent days serves as a motivation for this action, interviews conducted in December 2023 by AyiboPost in five supermarkets and with more than 15 people in Port-au-Prince suggest that the sale of toy guns is increasingly difficult and that parents are distancing themselves from the usual practice of giving them as gifts to their children.

On December 22, 2023 at Belmart, a supermarket located in Delmas 31, Materazzi was browsing the toy shelves. In his arms are bundles of toys, including several small spring-loaded robots.

But one thing is clear: no dummy weapons, the little play accessories so appreciated by children.

« Given the situation in the country, entrusting a toy gun to a child is the last thing I would have considered, » the man told AyiboPost, in an uncompromising tone.

Armes de jeu, Haiti

In December 2023, among other toys, fake weapons were noticed on the shelves of Olympic Market in Port-au-Prince. | © Rolph Louis Jeune/AyiboPost

The insecurity and endemic violence that the country has experienced in recent years are cited as the reason for this growing lack of interest in these toy accessories.

« The toy weapons are there, but they don’t sell. Since the beginning of December, I’ve only recorded two buyers, » lamented the head of the toy section.

« The last batch of toy guns I sold was bought by a customer for a TV series, » she adds.

This observation is also shared by Petit Fadilien, the head of the toy section at « Piyay Store » in the commune of Petion-ville, where « fake guns with pellets, barrels and firecrackers, or water pistols, are increasingly losing the interest of customers. »

Read also : Between fear and colorism, “black dolls” are despised in Haitian stores

Accompanied by his mother, a little boy of about 10 years old was frolicking in the aisles when AyiboPost approached him in December last year. « My father forbids me from playing with dummy weapons of any kind, » he says.

The toy weapons are there, but they don’t sell. Since the beginning of December, I’ve only recorded two buyers.

Most toy guns can easily pass for real guns.

Some parents fear getting into trouble in public spaces or with the police. Others fear the influence of these objects on their children’s lives.

« When the country wasn’t so heavily armed by gangs, a toy gun symbolized an accessory of police power. But today, it can be associated with crime, says Jean Romane, who came to pick up a gift for his goddaughter for her excellent grades in the end-of-year school assessments.

A thought shared by Esther, a mother of two from Petion-Ville, whom we met in the aisles of Piyay Store.

« I’ve excluded toy guns from my children’s gift options. I prefer to give them much more informative toys, like children’s books, » she concludes.

Armes de jeu, Port-au-Prince

In December 2023, among the various entertainment items, water guns were spotted for sale on the shelves of Olympic Market in Lalue.

Képler Aurélien, a doctor in sociology at the University of Paris in France and a professor at the State University of Haiti (UEH), believes that a child who plays with a fake gun will not necessarily be pushed towards crime.

« Where there can be danger is when that child resides in a neighborhood where guns are rampant and the person who is revered is an armed gang leader. »

The child, according to the specialist, could make a link between « respect and carrying a weapon, thus adopting socially undesirable behaviors later on. » But for the sociologist, even in this case, there is no inevitability, because socialization is always an incomplete process.

Read also: Weapons from the United States are fueling insecurity in Haiti

This situation, where customers lose interest in these toys, is forcing some supermarkets not to buy them at all or to drastically reduce their orders.

« There are only water pistols that were ordered two or three years ago. We haven’t ordered any since. And the few fake guns that are on the shelves are seeing their labels disappear because they are unsold, » says the head of the toy section at Olympic Market, in Lalue. One of her colleagues says that some children, attracted to these toys, are forced by their parents to choose something else.

Supermarkets aren’t the only ones noticing this trend. The informal sector is also experiencing a considerable decrease in demand for toy weapons.

Jeux de noel Haiti

A wheelbarrow filled with toys from a vendor in Pétion-ville in December 2023.

Jean-Pierre Lomy, a small toy retailer who sells his products in a wheelbarrow in the Petion-Ville market, told AyiboPost that despite the fact that he only sells small water pistols and has given up selling fake guns since 2015, he has struggled to sell his goods.

« Even these water guns don’t find buyers, » he adds.

Edson Georges, another retailer we met in Petion-Ville, said he never sold toy guns in his ten years of business. « I don’t even accept them for my children, » he says.

Read also: Gangs hack into Haitian National Police communication radios

Irvika François, Ph.D. in Education, says that a child who plays with a toy gun is not necessarily in danger, because he or she does not conceive of violence or aggression, but rather sees the imitation weapon as a symbol of power.

However, according to François, it would be preferable to offer very light toy weapons to children rather than those that look exactly like the real thing.

By Junior Legrand

Cover image: Toy weapons, among other items, were noticed on the shelves of Olympic Market in Port-au-Prince in December 2023. | © Rolph Louis Jeune/AyiboPost

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Junior Legrand est journaliste à AyiboPost depuis avril 2023. Il a été rédacteur à Sibelle Haïti, un journal en ligne.