July 8, 2008— -- This deeply unsettling experiment starts on a typical Monday morning on Manhattan's leafy Upper West Side, where commuters stroll by Starbucks and Central Park.
At 7:10 a.m., I'm off to see how long it takes to buy a child slave.
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It's 45 minutes to Kennedy Airport and an hour or so wait in the terminal, then a 3½-hour flight to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
A band greets the flight.
By the time my team and I have collected our luggage, gone through immigration and customs, and are loaded into our vehicles, it's about 3:15 p.m.
As we leave the airport, two things become immediately apparent: Port-au-Prince is an amazing, vivid place, and it's also extremely poor. The U.S. State Department warns Americans against visiting here. United Nations peacekeepers patrol the roads while we drive with our own security team: two armed Haitian men in SUVs.
By 4:45 p.m., I'm poolside at one of the city's few upscale hotels. I'm wearing a hidden camera built into the strap of a bike messenger-style bag that's around my neck. There's another hidden camera in a leather satchel on the table, right next to the fruit plate and Evian water. My colleagues are manning cameras in hotel rooms overlooking the pool.
Our security guards are sitting discretely nearby.
That's when the man with whom I've arranged a meeting shows up.
He says he's a former member of parliament and that he has connections. In broad daylight, with hotel waiters walking by, he doesn't even flinch when I make a horrific request.
"If I would like to get a child to live with me and take care of me," I ask. "Could you do that?"
"Yes," he says. "I can."
He's speaking in Creole, the most prevalent Haitian language. The man doing the translation, who has set up the meeting, works for us (unbeknownst to the slave trafficker).
The trafficker assures me he's done this sort of transaction many times before.
"A girl or a boy?" he asks.
"A girl probably," I say.
"Maybe 10 or 11."
"Not a problem."
He says he can get me an 11-year-old girl, although he suggests that a 15-year-old might be better, because she'd be more "developed."
I'm thinking: I can't believe I'm having this conversation.
"And this is OK?" I ask. "I won't have any trouble from their parents or anything like that?"
"No, you won't have any problems with their parents."
"When I give you the child, I will train it for you."
I'm not exactly sure what that means.
"I'm a little nervous." I say. "I just want to make sure that this is OK, that I'm not going to get in trouble, that this will be smooth, that you've done this before."
"I guarantee my service," says the trafficker, grinning. "I can get you your girl as early as tomorrow."
And now, the negotiation begins.
"So how much will it cost me to get a child?" I ask.
"The last one I gave was $300."
Trying to test the value of human life, I push a little.
"I have a friend who got one for $50."
"No," he says.
"What about $100?"
"$150," he offers.
And there it is. It's about 5 p.m. Roughly 10 hours after leaving my office in New York City, I have successfully negotiated to buy another human being -- an 11-year-old girl, whose value is set at just $150.
As we conclude our meeting, I want to make sure the trafficker does not act on my request. I ask him to wait a day before doing anything. I assure him I'll call him tomorrow with my final answer. He agrees.