By Erica Laster
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Despite being the first country to abolish slavery in the Americas, the recent earthquake leaving Port-Au Prince in ruins has increased fears of a soar in child slavery. Jean-Robert Cadet, a Haitian advocate an author suspects that the number of child slaves will double from its previous number of 300,000 in the country. The 10 Americans caught at the Dominican border with 33 Haitian children in February only serves to fuel these concerns.
ABC News reported that according to UNICEF, there are approximately 300,000 child slaves in Haiti, also known as “restaveks”, a Creole term meaning “stay-with.” Haiti’s restaveks are part of a hundred year system which impoverished families use, sending their children away to wealthier Haitian families, who often subject the children to verbal, physical and sexual abuse the Dissident Voice reports. Poverty forces many Haitian families to sell their children for money or material goods in order to survive. Some however, simply give their children away without payment, an action taken to save on the cost of feeding and caring for their child.
Despite Haiti’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on December 29, 1994, little progress was made in eradicating the problem of child slavery in the country. Now, many people may seek to capitalize on the desperation of families and the inability of children to find and re-unite with their families. With poverty on the rise in this country devastated by an earthquake with quickly depleting resources, these same children may escape to richer countries, but only to serve as slaves.
“Once children enter the family, they become a domestic slave and they are at the mercy of everyone in the house. The only thing worse is if the child is a girl, because there is sexual abuse and the risk of pregnancy once she reaches puberty,” says Jean-Robert Cadet, advocate and author of “Restavek.”
According to Cadet, 80% of the slaves are girls. Cadet himself was given to a Haitian family as a restavek at the age of 4 after the death of his mother. In the 1970’s, the family moved on to the United States.
After killing more than 300,000 people, the earthquake has left countless more homeless, with children at great risk for survival, violence and kidnapping. Cadet leaves for Haiti on Monday to monitor the tent camps of earthquake victims and restavek children’s treatment.
For more information, please see:
CNN Child Slavery a Growing Problem In Haiti, Advocate Says 11 July 2010
BBC News Haiti’s hidden ‘child slaves’ 20 March 2007
Dissident Voice Child Slavery In Haiti 3 February 2010