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Child Slavery in Haiti

An important character in PARIAH is Vivienne, a young woman who was a restavek (also spelled restavec) in Haiti.

She was, in other words, a child slave. That’s what the U.N. calls children like her.

The term restavek is a Creole derivation of the French rester avec, or “to stay with.” The country has a long tradition of child trafficking in which parents too poor to support children send them off to stay with another, (somewhat) better-off, family, perhaps friends or acquaintances. Their boss’ brother-in-law, for example. Often rural children are sent to live in the city. The children provide domestic work for their host families, which are expected to feed, clothe and educate them until they become adults.

It doesn’t always work out that way.

Often, they are physically and sexually abused, poorly fed and not educated at all. Imagine growing up in a household with a family that treats you as inferior. You work from before dawn to late at night doing backbreaking chores and then sleeping on the floor in a corner. You never have time to play and you receive no love. And that’s if you aren’t abused as well. Often, restaveks are dismissed when they’re still young and have no place to go, resorting to living on the streets.

Ending the tradition is difficult, due to its tenacity and the deep poverty of Haiti. The earthquake in 2010 made things even worse by leaving many families homeless and devastating the rural economy. There are an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 restaveks in this nation of 11 million people.

I recently donated to a non-profit called Restavek Freedom that raises awareness, meets with resteveks and their host families to monitor treatment, rescues children from abusive households, and tries to ultimately end child slavery in Haiti. The org has an excellent rating from Charity Navigator.

And here’s a fascinating autobiography by a former restavek from my research for PARIAH:

Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American

By Jean-Robert Cadet

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