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17043: (Chamberlain) Seeking opportunity, Haitian children find slavery (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By Amy Bracken
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Oct 24 (Reuters) - At a busy downtown intersection
about a dozen children and teenagers are hard at work, begging and wiping
cars for change.
Some live in a nearby slum, others on the street. Several have run
away from houses in which they worked for relatives, acquaintances or other
adults in exchange for room and board.
"I lived with a man who had a son, but I was the only one he told to
clean the house. He beat me when I didn't," said Gredlin Deludorone,
showing scars on his arms and legs. Deludorone has lived on the street
"I've been on the street since 1988," said Merison Charles, older than
all the youths around him. "I was mistreated at someone's house. They
promised to send me to school but never did."
Today about one in every 10 Haitian child is a restavek, or a child
who works for free in exchange for room and board, according to a 2002
report by the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. Most are girls,
sometimes as young as four.
When parents cannot care adequately for their children, they often
send them to live with a relative or acquaintance or another adult in the
city in the hope that they will be looked after and sent to school.
That rarely happens, said Guylande Mesadieu of the Collective for
Youth of the Savanna, which has a community centre for young people in need
in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
"Parents don't really know the situation," she said. "When they send
their children to Port-au-Prince they think they're sending them to
paradise, but the children just get stuck in work and poverty."
Despite increased publicity and efforts to stop the practice, it has
grown in recent years. The number of restaveks in Haiti increased by
100,000 between 1990 and 2002, according to the National Coalition for
The United States has threatened repeatedly to cut funding to Haiti
because of the common practice of "trafficking in humans," which includes
transporting children over the border into the Dominican Republic.
But each year the United States has backed away from "decertifying"
Haiti because the government appears to be trying to address the problem.
This year the Haitian senate proposed legislation to outlaw the
practice of domestic child labour. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has
spoken out against it on numerous occasions, and his wife, Mildred
Trouillot Aristide, wrote a book about it.
But some question the substance of such efforts.
"People are saying in 2003 that this practice must be eliminated,"
said Jean Lherisson, director of the human rights group Haiti Solidarity
International, which conducted a restavek study with UNICEF in 2001. "And I
say you have a law. Why was this law never applied?"
Haiti's parliament passed a law as early as 1958 calling for the
government to develop a process to end the restavek practice.
"It's not a legal question," said Lherisson. "It's a socio-economic
Today, the socio-economic influences behind domestic child labour are
more pronounced than ever as the employers of the restaveks have shifted
from predominantly wealthy to predominantly poor.
The wealthy no longer want restaveks, said Lherisson, because it is an
embarrassment. They can afford to pay a maid, and their needs are
"Rich people today don't need restaveks to get water from a well. They
get it delivered," said Lherisson.
The need for help in poor families is great, said Yannick Etienne,
director of the worker rights organisation Batay Ouvriye.
Low-wage labourers who work 12-hour days and raise children "are in a
situation where they have to get the help of a young person, probably a
young girl, from a distant relative or whatever," she said. "If you are to
get rid of this type of slavery in Haiti, people have to have a better
salary so they can pay people to do domestic work and also respect their
But better pay is a difficult solution in a country where the
unemployment rate hovers around 70 percent and the legal minimum wage is
scoffed at in many sectors.
Lherisson said it is difficult to understand "why someone would send
their children into captivity." But what is clear is that there is no
quick-fix solution. "One must assume that what must be done will take 10 or
15 years," he said.