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Child Slavery Problem in Haiti

Monday, April 5, 2010

By: Carol Blenda Reyes Avila

Today, all eyes are on Haiti–the island that was devastated by a natural disaster–but in closely looking at the problems there, one has to wonder how human right issues have been overlooked. At least, while it is not a secret that Haiti has had problems, the extent of the misery there has been underrated. Padgett  writes about the Restaveks or the human slaves in Haiti. Child slavery is a given there and the Haitian government in 2001 claimed that about 300 thousand young people were in fact child slaves. It is not that Haiti condones the situation. Yet, the problem goes undetected by the Haitian government. It festers there the same way the drug trade goes on secretly in the United States. Everyone knows its there but it is hard to stop entirely.

Danielle Romer, the head of a private social service agency claims that the problem of child slavery in Haiti is more widespread than anyone wants to admit. First, it is important to define the problem and take a look at Haiti. Why are the child slaves called Restaveks? The term in Creole means “to stay with us” and it is a nice sentiment for the abhorrent practice of owning a person same as any object bought at an open market.

Slavery has existed in Haiti since the nation became independent from France in 1804. The Haitian Revolution technically took place between 1794 and 1804 but the bloody French Revolution is also related.  The revolution in France in 1789  propelled Europe to go into an all out war, touching off “slave uprisings” in Caribbean islands . In 1794, France did do away with slavery in the colonies.

In 1802, Napoleon tried to restore slavery in the West Indies but when on January 1, 1804, Dessalines called himself the leader of a new nation, Haiti would emerge as a separate entity. Indeed, like the United States broke from Britain, Haiti would break from France. The first revolution occurred due to the desire for freedom. It was a typical colonial struggle between the people who lived in Haiti and the mother country of France. Fast forward to February of 2004 and there would be another struggle brewing.  Haiti’s rebellion had spread by February of 2004 and the Bush administration had taken a proactive role in  brokering a political settlement.

Haiti is politically unstable and now this country has to deal with extreme impoverishment due to an earthquake, even as child slavery is still a part of its culture. One can see that while Haiti did separate from France, and had been on its own for some time, the nation has never been politically stable. It never completely did away with slavery either.

A recent televised rock concert was held to raise money for Haiti and there have been many collections, but this does not always help the Restaveks. Yet, there are organizations that have been trying to alleviate the problem of slavery specifically. For example, the mission of the Restavek Foundation is as follows: ” Our mission is simple. We want to put an end to child slavery in Haiti. Unfortunately, the solution is not so straightforward. As a part of a complex web addressing the Restavek system in Haiti-our role is to give hope, and even freedom, to those who need it most. The Restavek Foundation provides Restavek children opportunities for education, advocates for enslaved children, and raises awareness on a global scale to end modern-day slavery in Haiti”

Indeed, as the mission statement suggests, the problem is not simple. In part, educating people will help, but poverty is at the root of many of the problems there. Poverty and a lack of resources, or even jobs, create the issues as do a lack of education. The fact that the problem is largely hidden is keeping other nations from taken action. Again, the most significant problem is the poverty. It is why parents do not do anything to stop the slave trade. In fact, they encourage their children to take these roles. Why? Lee explains: “In Haiti, solutions are hard to come by. Children die of starvation and many parents have little choice but to hope that the Restavek system provides them a way out of certain death.” Incredibly as it sounds, the plight of the child in Haiti is worse than that of the slave in Haiti.

Haiti is widely considered to be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Even if it did not experience an earthquake, or there were no Restaveks, the nation would still be in chaos. With so many people living in poverty, life is dismal. The fact that there has been a recent natural disaster and evidence of  child slavery  along with abuse, only makes matters worse. To some extent, bringing attention to Haiti does help in terms of aid. Right now, a great deal of money is being raised for the country.

Haiti certainly needs an overhaul. Poverty must be resolved and the infrastructure built up. Yet, aside from the creation of a better organized, more lucrative nation, the slave trade cannot be tolerated. Poverty is no excuse for abuse. Yet, again, the infrastructure and the government needs to be reformed as well. The police in Haiti are notoriously corrupt. Parents must not give up by giving their children away to a life of slavery. Awareness is important, as is education, but resoling the issue of poverty seems to be most important to the cause.

Jean R. Cadet Restavek Foundation. 2010. Retrieved from e&id=1026

Lee, N.C. (2009, August 6). ANOTHER VIEW: SPOTLIGHT RETURNS TO  ‘RESTAVEKS’ OF HAITI. Retrieved from
Marquis, C. & Polgreen, L. (2004, February 21). U.S. to help    Haiti and urges out Americans. International Herald     Tribune.
Padgett, T. (2001, May 4). Of Haitian Bondage. Time Magazine.   Retrieved from racematters/ofhaitianbondage.htm
Smith, K.F.  (2010, January 16). Haiti: A Historical Perspective.
Newsweek Web Exclusive. Retrieved from
The Haitian Revolution. 1794 – 1804. 2010. Retrieved from


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