They are children without parents or far away from them. They are always working as unpaid domestic servants. They often don’t get an education and they are sometimes abused, beaten or raped. They are called restavek. These absolutely poor children are sent or sold by their families to other homes in the city with the hope for a better life.
The existence of restaveks isn’t new in Haiti. Slavery which ended with independence in 1804 is illegal in Haiti. Restavek children are officially not slaves. Today 300,000 children are living as servants and their number is increasing. The devastating earthquake exacerbated this situation.
The movement of the children is from poor homes to less poor homes, sometimes within the same family. The restavek’s parents hope that their children will get better schooling opportunities in their new environment. As a return of the ‘’better life’’ and accommodation the restaveks have to serve for the whole family. In terms of a better life it’s often quite the contrary. These arrangements between the families are actually aggravating the children’s situation so that we can say: This is a form of modern day child slavery.
According to the U.N. Office unemployment reaches 70 percent nationally and 78 percent of Haitians live on less than $2 a day. Under this economic condition the exploitation of children reaches a high level. The U.N. Office found out that 22 percent of children surveyed were living away from home, and that 30 percent of households had restavek children.
Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. ABRAHAM LINCOLN, speech, Mar. 17, 1865
Fortunately there are people or organizations in Haiti and around the world who are ‘’fighting’’ for the freedom of these children.
Restavek Freedom was founded in 2007 by Joan and Ray Conn. It operates in four locations in Haiti: Port-au-Prince, Carrefour Feuilles, Delmas, and Port Salut. And a small support staff in the US in Cincinnati, Ohio. This organization wants to end the child slavery in Haiti and its partners are other organizations in Haiti who are working on the issue of restavek, marginalized children, education and root causes of poverty. Other partners are high schools, universities, faculty members and faith-based or civic organizations in the US.
UNICEF makes efforts to throw light on the resavek practice and engages the communities’ and the governments attention for this issue. Finally UNICEF tries to reunite restavek children with their real families (birth parents).
Kindernothilfe is a Non-Governmental Organisation founded in Germany in 1959. It partners with local non-governmental organizations in countries all around the world. Kindernothilfe is recently supporting 875 restavek children with education, professional education and the psychological/ medical assistance.
These are only some of the aid organizations and I hope that their efforts will bring the (worldwide) child slavery to an end. According the U.N. study the recruitment of such children is “intimately linked” with poverty. Not only aid organizations but also governmental institutions should be fully engaged in such programs or projects. The poor families in Haiti don’t need only food but also education, clarification of the facts in terms of the restavek issue, job prospects and education for a better family planning. Some organizations are already working in that direction but especially in Port-au-Prince they are not welcome by the beneficiary and supporters of the restavek system. I think the big problem is that this system is firmly established in the Haitian society. Therefore it will be really difficult to abandon the restavek completely.
The Haitian government seems to be incompetent and inactive in this issue. Moreover it was unsuccessful by coordinating the reconstruction of the country and the effective and reasonable allocation of the international aid. Since the last devastating earthquake there is only a little progress. And where is the money?
‘’And, to be fair, because the money came in so quickly and in such great volume, much of it has been wasted or lost like so much rice spilling on the docks. Or stolen, like the sacks of rice from here which will end up in Haiti’s black market for food’’. The Huffington Post World, June 10,2012.