It is hard to believe that in the 21st Century, just a few hundred miles from the shores of the U.S., child slavery exists. But believe it or not, in Haiti there are hundreds of thousands of “restaveks,” a Haitian euphemism for child slaves. These children are surrendered by families who cannot feed or support them to wealthier families, who customarily beat, degrade and torture them, giving them minimal food, clothing and shelter in exchange for a crushing life of labor from pre-dawn to late night.
Such slavery is an uncomfortable topic, so it is rarely mentioned by the entities and organizations that should be screaming the loudest. We often hear that Haiti is a result of a successful slave revolt, but Haiti’s bloody and bizarre history is much more complex than that simple statement suggests. Haiti still suffers from an enduring unjust caste system, typically determined by shades of skin color, and Haiti still has slavery, albeit not heriditary or permanent.
The suffering of the innocent children who are victims of this system is almost unimaginable. I recently read I Will Fly Again by Lili Dauphin and Restavec by John-Robert Cadet. Both are memoirs from former restaveks and both will rip your hearts and boil your blood. Susie Kraubacher’s book Angels of a Lower Flight also provides glimpses of this horrible practice, as well as the generally pervasive Haitian indifference to the suffering of the “least of these” in Haiti. I wish every person in the world would read these books. It would take very few of us, acting with determination, to bring child slavery in Haiti to an end.