Lance Durban <email@example.com> posts the follow-up piece to that
Nightline #1 comment of a couple days ago (original of both were posted
to an online college group based in western NY)…
This may not interest all (so feel free to delete), but I promised a
follow-up on that Nightline story of last Tuesday on child slavery in
Haiti. To understand the problem, one needs to get beyond the usual
image of pre-Civil War slavery. Slavery in today’s world generally does
not involve keeping people in chains and selling them to the highest
bidder at an auction.
In Haiti there are actually two groups that would probably fall into the
category of 21st century slaves… quite astounding when one considers
that Haiti was founded by the more traditional-type slaves from Africa
who gained their independence in the violent overthrow of French
plantation owners in 1804! One would think their descendants would be
positively horrified to be seen as part of a 21st century slave-holding
society. That they can live with themselves is only because they don’t
see themselves as slaveholders.
The first group of “slaves” are poor Haitians who have slipped over to
the Dominican Republic on the eastern half of this island to find work…
most often as exploited sugar cane cutters. Under Haiti’s Duvalier
regime, which ended in 1986, Haiti would actually sign a contract with
the Dominican government to send over busloads of Haitians looking for
employment. The Duvalier government pocketed the contract proceeds and
many of those Haitians and their children are still in the DR with zero
rights and victims of scandalous human rights abuse. Frosty political
relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic are partly explained
by mistreatment of Haitian nationals/slaves in the Dominican Republic.
The “restaveks” described in the Nightline story are a different category
of slave, and estimates on their numbers range as high as 300,000 in this
country of 8+ million. These are very poor rural children whose families
send them into the city on the dubious hope that they will get fed,
clothed, and maybe even an education. Although there is no starvation in
Haiti, food is a problem for rural peasants, who typically have lots of
kids. Sending them off to some distant relative in the big city, or the
friend of a distant relative, or someone who is simply travelling to the
big city and agrees to take junior…. well, the odds are excellent that
the kid will fall into an abusive situation. Haitians generally agree
with the dictum, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”, and corporal
punishment of children is pretty common.
Restavec means literally “stay with”, and a restavek would be pretty
lucky to find a wealthy Haitian family to take them in. But wealthy
families, and ironically there are many in Haiti, don’t need to take in
some poor underage kid from the country. They hire maids, gardeners,
nurses, and chauffeurs, who frequently occupy a room or two in the back
yard, often with their own kids. Such live-in help runs about US$100 a
month, although nurses and chauffeurs might make a bit more.
Haiti’s restaveks end up with poor families only slightly better off than
the birth parents out in the country. These urban poor are not looking
to adopt a child; they are looking for free household help. The fact
that they may have their own children of about the same age whom they are
trying to feed, clothe, educate makes their unequal treatment of a
restavek particularly tragic. Even if the restavek escapes physical
abuse, his loss of self-esteem is only increased by the knowledge that
his parents gave him away.
Bill Cain, who visited us in February will recall our meeting Father Marc
Boisvert in the city of Cayes. Father Marc is a former U.S Army chaplain
who resigned his commission after a tour in Haiti exposed him to the
plight of Haiti’s street children. He and his brother-in-law, Jack
Reynolds, of North Carolina have established an orphanage in near Cayes
<http://theoswork.org>, and Jack tells me that about a third of their 600
orphans are former restaveks picked up off the streets and brought to
Father Marc by local authorities. Although Bill and I didn’t have time
to visit the orphanage on that occasion, I had visited it previously and
was tremendously impressed by this private voluntary effort to tackle a
very real problem in Haiti.
Thinking about the employees at Manutech, our electronics plant in
Port-au-Prince, it does occur to me that this is precisely the
economically-squeezed class from which restavek “owners” come. Employed
and therefore not the poorest, but hardly able to hire household help for
$100 a month, most of our employees are young unmarried women, so
probably do not have a restavek at home… yet. But their parents might.
Consequently, we have tried to educate our employees on the problem, but
I am not sure how successful we are. These 21st century slaveholders in
Haiti see themselves as feeding and housing a poor kid who might not be
eating otherwise! There is absolutely no stigma attached to having your
very own restavek, which explains why the woman of the house on that
Nightline piece was quite willing to go on camara and describe the life
of her young charge.
So, that’s some further background on that Nightline piece. Indeed,
Port-au-Prince is only about 90 minutes from Miami, but culturally
speaking, it is light years away.