Sixteen Americans and one Canadian citizen are among a group of Christian Aid Ministries workers that have been kidnapped in Haiti.

The group were kidnapped yesterday by a gang outside the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, a local security source said.

The five men, seven women and five children were abducted during a trip to visit an orphanage, Christian Aid said.

They are being held by an armed gang that for months has been engaged in theft and kidnappings in the area between Port-au-Prince and the border with the Dominican Republic, the source said.

The "400 Mawozo" gang has hijacked several vehicles on the roads it controls, kidnapping American citizens and an undetermined number of Haitian citizens.

A spokesman for the US government said it was aware of the reports but declined to provide any information.

"The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State," the official said.

In April, 10 people were kidnapped by 400 Mawozo in the same region, including two French Catholic clergy members.

One member of that group, Michel Briand - who was released after 20 days - said they had "been in the wrong place at the wrong time", believing that the gang members had not planned their abduction.

Armed gangs, which for years have controlled the poorest districts of the Haitian capital, have extended their hold to other parts of Port-au-Prince and its surroundings, sowing terror with kidnappings.

More than 600 kidnappings were recorded in the first three quarters of 2021, compared with 231 over the same period last year, according to the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, a civil society group based in the Haitian capital.

Gangs do not hesitate to demand decades of wages from the families of their victims, most of whom are living below the poverty line.

The vast majority of women kidnapped by criminal gangs are sexually assaulted, according to human rights groups that have denounced police inaction.

Before yesterday's kidnappings, professional associations and businesses in Port-au-Prince had called for an indefinite strike starting tomorrow to protest the growing climate of insecurity.

For years, Haiti has been paralysed by a deep political and economic crisis, and the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise plunged the Caribbean country into even further turmoil.