Modern-day slavery or human trafficking, as it is officially known, thrives in Haiti under the name restavec. It is a shadow community benefiting from enforced child labor due to poor Haitians' inability to provide for their children. In 2014 Haiti's legislature passed a law criminalizing the practice of restavec, which now demands the arrests of those engaging in it.
How children end up becoming domestic slaves, suffering neglect and abuse, happens as a result of poor parents' desperation. They cannot afford to feed and clothe their children, so they send them to to live with better-off families with assurances the children will be taken care of in return for performing domestic duties.
The hard lives lived by some of Haiti's children doesn't often make the news. Recently however, the stoplight has been shone on those working as little more than child slaves, and the man fighting to put an end to their plight is more than an authority; he is a survivor.
At only 4 years old, Jean Robert Cadet was given away by his family to another, following the death of his mother. This family is expected to take a child in, feed, clothe and school it in exchange for the child taking on housekeeping duties. This explanation however, simplifies and even sugar-coats it, as often the children become little more than slaves, doing all the work without reaping the benefits. The practice is so common in Haiti that there is a name for these types of children; restavek.
Restavek is a cruel and inhumane practice that has been allowed to flourish in Haiti for decades. Restavek, translated from Créole, means "to stay with". In this system, ignorant parents, who cannot support their children, deliver them to families, who ostensibly can.
But in truth, they are anything but cared for. Sent to work as house servants, young girls between 5-15 years are beaten and sexually abused, forced to sleep on the floor. They must begin laboring at dawn, doing tasks that are humiliating, like washing out bedpans; or hard labor, carrying heavy pails of water from wells back to their houses.
The international community is aware of the horrors of restavek, and increased numbers of Christian and non-profit organizations are working to save children and educate Haitian communities the practice is immoral and unacceptable. In Haiti, restavek is embedded in the culture.
It is said that human trafficking is the modern form of slavery, and with Haiti and Mauritania to judge by, emancipation may be an outdated term that no longer holds up in water today. With the statistics stating that some nearly 30 million people are living under varying kinds of involuntary servitude, slavery is still a scourge on humanity today. The problem is that it has taken on new names. But, does this rose smell any less like slavery?
Debt bondage, sexual exploitation and forced marriages are some of the new euphemisms used to make modern day slavery more inconspicuous and in the two mentioned countries the trick seems to be working. While Mauritania and Haiti hold the highest proportions of people considered to be slaves, China, India and Pakistan hold the highest absolute numbers. The transgressors in these countries operate against the mandate of the international treaty, the 1926 Slavery Convention as well as the UN Trafficking Protocol.
What an irony, Haiti, first to abolish slavery, now one of the highest countries in modern day slavery
Haiti, the first black-led republic in the world, gained independence in 1804 as part of a successful slave revolution. The slaves in Saint-Domingue revolted and fought against one of the most sophisticated army at the time because they believe that all man are equal and that slavery should be abolished.
Now how can you understand this today. An Australian Foundation came up with a report recently listing Haiti as the second country with the highest per capita globally engaging in modern day slavery after India.
According to the report, about two percent of the Haitian population are living as forced child labor known as "restavec"
Maurice Alfrédo Sixto, one of the biggest names in Haitian literature, was the son of an engineer Maurice Alfredo Sixto (father and son bears the same name) was born on 23 May 1919 in Gonaives, Haiti. He was a man of many colors-- a professor, ambassador, translator, tour guide, reporter are some of them to name a few. He will be remembered for his immense contribution in Haitian Creole language that took Haitian culture to a glorious stature. His father was a rich man.
In his childhood, Maurice Sixto attended the most prestigious school (Saint Louis de Gonzague), after completing high school lessons, he studied at Haitian Military Academy for a couple of months and joined for law courses. While studying his law course, he worked as a news reporter and a radio presenter. Thereafter his career took new turns and he worked as an English teacher in Republic of Congo. He left Congo in 1969 and decided to settle in Paris and work as Haitian diplomat in France.
Frederick Douglass, born into slavery in 1818, escaped his slave master and became a writer, speaker, and public servant. He was beaten from child- into early adulthood by his slave master. After one beating too many, he decided he was never going to tolerate another. When the slave owner tried to beat him, Frederick ferociously fought back.
By 1893, he was the leading black intellectual of his era, having penned many autobiographies detailing his life as a former slave. He put the lie to the argument slaves did not possess intelligence to lead their own lives with all the rights accorded to white citizens.
Haitian storyteller Maurice Sixto began life in Gonaïves in 1919. Born into privileged circumstances, son of an engineer, he studied at elite Sainte Louis de Gonzague High School and pursued a legal career at University of Haiti. While there, he fell into journalism working at Le Matin. He then taught English in the Republic of Congo, and was attached to the diplomatic service in Paris.
However, Sixto's greatest contribution to Haiti were his gifts as raconteur. Using his skills as a voice actor, he developed characters to address social ills hounding Haitian culture. One controversial topic of his satires was the unspeakable practice of child slavery, known as restavék. Restavék means servant, unfortunate children who end up as slaves when their families can't care for them. Farmed out to wealthy families to work, they suffer physical, mental, and emotional abuses.
With the weak economy and poor living conditions in Haiti, many women, including teenagers, have settled to becoming prostitutes just to earn. Prostitution is illegal in the country but this does not stop women from getting paid for sex. Since the 1940s, prostitution rings have been active in the country and it only got worse as time went by and catastrophes hit the Caribbean nation.
According to a report in 2005, Haitian children were being trafficked in the Dominican Republic, where they were forced to work as slaves or prostitutes. Many of these children were orphaned, while others can no longer be supported and fed by their parents. As a result, they are brought to the Dominican Republic and sold to families and individuals looking for a child laborer. There were reports that the trafficked children have been physically abused too and some were so traumatized they can not recall how they got to that situation.
Whether the victim is tricked into owing a debt, forced into servitude, or sent to work as an unpaid domestic, all are forms of slave labor.
Sources in the international community say that enslavement is a threat to anybody by virtue of random circumstances not under their control. In some instances, victims are lured by promises of a better life. Preying upon the destitute and naïve from underdeveloped countries, seeking a way out of their misery, these predators ensnare and coerce their victims into debt bondage.
An illustration of this method of slavery is the plight of illegal crossing over the border from Mexico into the U.S. Lured by rumors of work, they are picked up during the border cross and told there are jobs waiting for them. They ride for days, caged within the vehicle, with no chance to eat or relieve themselves.
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