From Sun Oct 26 19:05:59 2003
Date: Sun, 26 Oct 2003 13:16:01 -0600 (CST)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 17043: (Chamberlain) Seeking opportunity, Haitian children find slavery (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <>

Seeking opportunity, Haitian children find slavery

By Amy Bracken, Reuters, 24 October 2003

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Oct 24 (Reuters)—At a busy downtown intersection about a dozen children and teenagers are hard at work, begging and wiping cars for change.

Some live in a nearby slum, others on the street. Several have run away from houses in which they worked for relatives, acquaintances or other adults in exchange for room and board.

I lived with a man who had a son, but I was the only one he told to clean the house. He beat me when I didn’t, said Gredlin Deludorone, showing scars on his arms and legs. Deludorone has lived on the street since 2001.

I’ve been on the street since 1988, said Merison Charles, older than all the youths around him. I was mistreated at someone’s house. They promised to send me to school but never did.

Today about one in every 10 Haitian child is a restavek, or a child who works for free in exchange for room and board, according to a 2002 report by the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. Most are girls, sometimes as young as four.

When parents cannot care adequately for their children, they often send them to live with a relative or acquaintance or another adult in the city in the hope that they will be looked after and sent to school.

That rarely happens, said Guylande Mesadieu of the Collective for Youth of the Savanna, which has a community centre for young people in need in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Parents don’t really know the situation, she said. When they send their children to Port-au-Prince they think they’re sending them to paradise, but the children just get stuck in work and poverty.

Despite increased publicity and efforts to stop the practice, it has grown in recent years. The number of restaveks in Haiti increased by 100,000 between 1990 and 2002, according to the National Coalition for Haitian Rights.

The United States has threatened repeatedly to cut funding to Haiti because of the common practice of trafficking in humans, which includes transporting children over the border into the Dominican Republic.

But each year the United States has backed away from decertifying Haiti because the government appears to be trying to address the problem.

This year the Haitian senate proposed legislation to outlaw the practice of domestic child labour. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has spoken out against it on numerous occasions, and his wife, Mildred Trouillot Aristide, wrote a book about it.

But some question the substance of such efforts.

People are saying in 2003 that this practice must be eliminated, said Jean Lherisson, director of the human rights group Haiti Solidarity International, which conducted a restavek study with UNICEF in 2001. And I say you have a law. Why was this law never applied?

Haiti’s parliament passed a law as early as 1958 calling for the government to develop a process to end the restavek practice.

It’s not a legal question, said Lherisson. It’s a socio-economic question.

Today, the socio-economic influences behind domestic child labour are more pronounced than ever as the employers of the restaveks have shifted from predominantly wealthy to predominantly poor.

The wealthy no longer want restaveks, said Lherisson, because it is an embarrassment. They can afford to pay a maid, and their needs are different.

Rich people today don’t need restaveks to get water from a well. They get it delivered, said Lherisson.

The need for help in poor families is great, said Yannick Etienne, director of the worker rights organisation Batay Ouvriye.

Low-wage labourers who work 12-hour days and raise children are in a situation where they have to get the help of a young person, probably a young girl, from a distant relative or whatever, she said. If you are to get rid of this type of slavery in Haiti, people have to have a better salary so they can pay people to do domestic work and also respect their rights.

But better pay is a difficult solution in a country where the unemployment rate hovers around 70 percent and the legal minimum wage is scoffed at in many sectors.

Lherisson said it is difficult to understand why someone would send their children into captivity. But what is clear is that there is no quick-fix solution. One must assume that what must be done will take 10 or 15 years, he said.