Former restavek Jean Robert Cadet fighting child slavery in Haiti

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.

Jean Robert Cadet's story is one that chronicles the horror such a child's life can become. Until he was 20 years old, he lived with a family who forbade him to smile, to laugh or to speak unless prompted. He was made to sleep under the kitchen table, and was often brutally beaten. The worse crime, though, was probably the sexual abuse he endured, a common feature in the lives of restavek children.

Today, Cadet has become a champion for the abolishment of this child slavery, starting the Restavek Foundation behind the slight might the now-illegal status of the practice in Haiti gives him. 2007 saw the ratification of two conventions of the United Nations putting a ban on child labor. Still, in Haiti the practice remains common, and children remain at risk, because the law is not efficaciously enforced.

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Read more: Restavek, child slavery, poverty

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