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It is hard to believe that slavery exists; that hundreds of thousands of children live away from their families without affection or hope or even childhoods. Today in Haiti, one of every 15 children lives in restavek — one form of modern-day child slavery.
Restavek is a Creole term which literally means “stay with.” It refers to a child, most often from a poor family in the country, who is sent to “stay with” another family in the city. In other words, the understanding is that the child will help around the house in exchange for food, shelter and the rare privilege of going to school. 300,000 children live as domestic servants, exploited for their free labor. They are used and often abused, and they grow up with little chance to change the course of their future.
In fact, this better life is not a reality. Instead a child in restavek faces not only an enormous workload, but isolation from family and friends, abuse, and in many cases, a total loss of hope. After years of living without small moments of joy and overlooked or cast aside by society, children lose hope that their lives will ever change. Restavek is complicated. It is a system that has been in place for generations. People who give children up and people who take children in for their free labor are continuing a practice that has long been accepted in Haiti.
One organization – Restavek Freedom – is working to end childhood slavery in Haiti. “We aim to bring new thinking to this entrenched issue.”R
The mission of Restavek Freedom is simple: “We want to END the system of restavek. We believe that in order to fully eradicate this harmful practice, it is necessary to take a holistic approach, addressing both the immediate needs of children currently in restavek while also finding ways to change the behaviors that keep the system alive. ”
This short 9-minute film will open your eyes to the realities of this form of childhood slavery:
The first priority for Restavek Freedom is to help children who are currently in restavek, but the organization also works with adults and communities to prevent additional children from being victims of restavek. There are three main elements that compose the efforts to eradicate restavek: Advocacy, Influence and Mobilize. See the Restavek Freedom website for more details.
Restavek Freedom works to end restavek by offering programs within these communities where the restavek system is alive. Some of these programs include:
Literacy Program. Teach host parents to read and provide a forum to talk with them and read about human rights issues and the treatment of children.
Open Space. In Haiti, an Open Space is a defined way to discuss any topic — somewhat like a town hall meeting. Open Space groups are conducted in Port-au-Prince to talk about restavek and invite communities to review and rethink their treatment of children.
Women’s Groups. As part of the prevention work, Restavek Freedom has established a partnership with the FADRIS women’s group, which helps women find income-generating activities like sewing, business skills, and baking. They also offer teaching from various speakers on parenting and how to value children.
In other parts of the world, Restavek Freedom works with schools, universities, community groups, businesses and faith communities who are interested in getting engaged in this issue. They accomplish this through speaking events, and an interactive exhibit Restavek, a day-in-the-life experience.
In this video, young Haitian girls read their letters to President Martelly — a plea to end restavek.
Ending childhood slavery takes all of us. Restavek Freedom needs our help. Do you have an extra $30 per month? Sponsor a child with Restavek Freedom. Your gift of $30 per month will provide tuition, a uniform, books, supplies and regular visits from the Restavek Freedom Child Advocates.
CNN recently aired a documentary on restavek child servitude in Haiti. The documentary, “Common Dreams,” features actor and Grammy-winning hip hop artist Common, Restavek Freedom’s Operations Manager, Fabiola Desmont, and director, Justin Dillon. The storyline follows the team’s journey to try to help one individual restavek child. CNN, Common and Justin Dillon were on location for two weeks with our team in Haiti in order to better understand the system of restavek in Haiti. In a Freedom Project documentary, Grammy Award-winning musician and actor Common focuses on the plight of the Restaveks, the estimated 300,000 children working as domestic servants in Haiti. You can now watch the entire program in six parts here.
Slavery isn’t something that happened. It is something that is happening today. Around the world, children and adults alike are forced to live in modern-day slavery. Ultimately, in one way or another, each of us plays a part in further fueling modern-day slavery, or putting an end to it. Which part will you play?