Understanding Restavèk in Haiti, and How Child Slavery Has Impacted the Country
After spending much time in Haiti in response to natural disasters, a more terrifying issue has become apparent to all of us at The Brian Young Foundation. Failed leadership, economic disparity, and toxic societal standards have given way to a humanitarian crisis known as ‘restavèk.’
Restavèk is a female-dominated child slavery system that has rapidly penetrated the island of Haiti during its fight to recover from persistent disasters, both natural and man-made. The majority of restavèks are between 5 and 14 years old, but a study by the CDC estimates that 15% of Haitians aged 13 to 24 were also living as restavèks. More affluent Haitian families recruit these children to perform laborious household tasks, many of which are hazardous to their own safety. Although they are promised shelter, adequate nutrition, and access to education in return, restavèks are often met with abuse, neglect, and violence instead. They are treated as slaves and sometimes even exchanged by host families without their consent.
This modern slavery epidemic can seem unfathomable to someone like you or me, raised to love and protect all God’s children. But in a country like Haiti, the fight for survival has inflicted detrimental effects on its citizens’ mental health, and these situations have manifested into unimaginable circumstances.
The persistent failings of the Haitian government have left its impoverished citizens to fend for themselves, facing extreme hardships. Earthquakes and hurricanes have devastated farming in rural areas that rely on local agriculture for economic and nutritional resources. As a result, a majority of children in these areas suffer from chronic malnutrition. These conditions and little access to clean water make these children more susceptible to diseases like cholera. Many schools that provided a safe refuge and educational opportunities to these children were destroyed in natural disasters, leaving children running rampant in the dirt streets-- many still lined with debris. With relatively no social welfare assistance from their government, survival is a constant fight for the families in these areas. Many mothers are victims of gender-based violence and abuse themselves, leading them to voluntarily give up their children out of desperation. In hopes that their children can escape their dire situation, they send them away.
To avoid trafficking, some give their children to wealthier extended family members. But hierarchy and classism are still present and dominate heavily over blood relations. This translates to the children being treated as less-than, inferior, and non-deserving of scarce resources. When placed with distant relatives, these children are more likely to receive the education they were promised. However, the privilege remains transactional, and the children are still subjected to abusive living conditions.
In our hearts, the restavèk crisis has far surpassed any trials Haiti has faced to this date. Its very existence is a testament to the disproportionate effects extreme poverty and inequality have on children. Our mission at The Brian Young Foundation is to directly impact these children, giving them real hope for a better life. We support disenfranchised, neglected youth by working alongside Haitian orphanages, providing them with safe shelter, adequate nutrition, and educational opportunities. Orphanages in Haiti are an alternative to the restavèk system, but they are extremely outnumbered and underfunded. The more we can fortify their efforts, the more vulnerable children we can prevent from living life as a restavèk. As always, we appreciate your support in our endeavors. May God Bless you all and keep your families safe.