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Child Slavery Active in Haiti
5/1/2015 2:41:06 PM

By Dinkinish O’Connor, Special from The Miami Times

In Haiti, a 9-year-old girl leaves her poor village to work as a domestic worker for a family in Port-au-Prince, the island’s capital. She will not earn money, but the family will pay for her to go to school. She cooks, cleans and performs whatever domestic responsibilities are required in exchange for a promise of safety and and a better quality of life.

What happens sometimes though is that metal broom sticks become weapons, guardians become rapists and child workers become child slaves.

The “Honoring Victims of Slavery” conference held recently at Broward College explored the survival stories of three women. At 13, Dr. Katariina Rosenblatt was lured into child prostitution while she attended North Miami Beach’s John F. Kennedy Middle School. Evelyn Chumbow is an Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST) survivor advocate whose mother sent her away from her native Cameroon thinking she was going to get a good education. In Maryland, Chumbow’s education-less childhood included metal broom beatings. But the event focused on restavèk and Haitian child slavery survivor and advocate Marie Alina “Tibebe” Cajuste, who talked about head-splitting beatings, a symptom of her restavèk childhood.

Defining restavèk was the conference’s most intense discussion topic. For many of Haiti’s poor communities, a restavèk is a child slave. It is also a socially accepted system of overworking and sometimes raping and maiming children and adolescents. Restavèk is a Haitian Creole word derived from the French phrase, reste avec which means “to stay with.” In Haiti, it is an arrangement where a poor family sends their child to live with a family who will provide food, education and better quality of living in exchange for domestic work.

Cajuste is a restavèk descendent who was conceived when her mother was raped by the son of the family for whom she worked. Cajuste’s mother was forced to leave the house and gave birth to her in the street in front of a brothel where a market woman who was passing by cut the umbilical cord with a Gillette.

“Restavèks. This is real,” wrote Marie-Claire Dorcely, who was a human resources specialist for Miami-Dade County and senior manager of labor relations for Fontainebleau Miami Beach before she became human resources director at one of Haiti’s largest private universities. “Since I moved back to Haiti, I can see these children running errands or carrying water. It’s heartbreaking,” Dorcely said.


Diem Pierre, one of the panelists who works with Haiti Government Institute for Social Welfare and Research, said that Haiti’s anti-slavery laws acknowledge restavèk child domestic servitude as part of their anti-human trafficking initiatives and that the government is creating a committee against human trafficking. Pierre said differentiating restavèk from child work is key to stopping restavèk’s horrors.

“The lines are blurry,” said Pierre through translator Celia Roberts, a Broward College professor. “The word means different things to different people.”

Human rights organizations Beyond Borders and Zanmi Timoun report a pandemic of restavèk children living in inhumane conditions. The Beyond Borders website says the organization has been working to end restavèk since 1993 and estimates 250,000 children living in these conditions. While lives are being saved, there are also accounts of retaliation that include beatings and disappearance.

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