Restaveks

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.

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One comment on “Restaveks

  1. Mira Chaikin says:

    Children, women and girls get exploited all over the world. That’s an age-old phenomenon. In Haiti it comes part and parcel with its dysfunctional existence; its reeling from the old dictatorship. Perhaps this is a punishment from wicked powers that be for defying the devil in the slave revolt that founded the country. It is a bitter irony that a country founded by slaves who fought for their own freedom, a glorious deed in itself, has one of the few remaining remnants of the slavery worldwide.

    Making it illegal would be a good first step. Another obscenity about it is the way it has been tolerated and accepted in Haiti, as a matter of course. Here it is dark-skinned people doing it to other dark-skinned people. When slavery existed in the U.S., the logic was that dark-skinned people were less than human; therefore slavery was acceptable. In Haiti, dark-skinned people are doing this to other dark-skinned people, though in Lili’s case, interestingly, her lighter skin made her a target rather than as a protection. It should be noted that children that were very dark-skinned and lighter-skinned were both restaveks.

    Setting up protections of the law, would be a considerable deterrent, though there would be abuses, but much less than currently. It would take some time, but it would eventually no longer be looked at as acceptable, except in the underworld. In the United States, where the Restavek system is unheard of, at least legally, much of this sort of abuse, in the underworld, is of a sexual nature. Young girls (and even boys) have been forced into prostitution or stripping frequently. Sometimes it is made to appear like they are doing this out of their own free will, particularly if it is something legal like stripping or go go dancing. Worldwide, there’s been an epidemic of children, particularly females, getting trafficked and often, after they are rescued from this quandary, the girl is traditionally blamed, stigmatized and deported, (though not quite as bad as in some countries, such as in the Middle East, where girls that are raped are put to death.)

    Tilou, in Lili Dauphin’s book, I Will Fly Again: The Restavek, fortunately, was freed from this slavery before she could be abused sexually, though what she went through was heartbreaking to read, much worse than anything that even Cinderella went through. More like a holocaust victim than Cinderella.

    Let’s start. While the world’s attention is focused on Haiti, let’s get that country to set up some law and order concerning freeing these children and caring for them otherwise. Maybe things would go better for that country if its culture dictated that all its children be nurtured and given love. This is an ongoing theme in Lili Dauphin’s series about Tilou, which starts with Crying Mountain Crazy Hurricane, something she emphasizes repeatedly.

    Like

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