BY AMANDA KLOER
What has been a slow crisis of poverty and enslavement for almost 250,000 child slaves in Haiti, known as restaveks, turned into an immediate crisis this week with the brutal 7.0 earthquake that hit the country. Mere hours after the news of the devastation in Haiti broke, America and countries around the world saw an outpouring of aid from international organizations and individuals. Groups have organized drives for everything from donations to shoes to volunteers.
But as we all get that warm and fuzzy feeling from helping our neighbors in their time of great need, it’s important to remember that millions of Haitians needed aid before this earthquake, and they’ll continue to need it long after the media fervor has died. And those with the greatest need will be the enslaved restaveks.
Restaveks are a huge part of Haitian society and the economy. They are usually children from extremely poor families who are sent away to work as domestic servants in wealthier homes. The children aren’t paid for their work, but provided shelter and a sometimes meager meal supply. In the best case scenarios, families will send their restavek children to school. But restaveks often work long days performing a variety of household tasks for nothing more that a meal or two a day. Two-thirds of restaveks are girls, and they are extremely vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse from the families who house and control them. The life of a restavek child in Haiti often varies between bleak and hopeless, and many children never successfully leave their slave conditions.
Restaveks are also the least likely to benefit from the tide of international aid washing onto Haiti’s shores, though they might be the ones most in need of it. A restavek’s hunger and wounds take a distant backseat to those of their employer. And some restaveks are not officially registered with the Haitian government as people.
While it’s impossible to predict the exact long-term effects of a natural disaster of this magnitude on a country where the poverty is so immense and the enslavement of millions of children is a common and socially-accepted part of life, I feel comfortable predicting that even more children will become restaveks. And while life will get significantly harder for everyone, restaveks will be hit the worst.
If you’re interested in helping the people of Haiti, Change.org’s Michael Jones lists some great resourceswhere you can donate, and in some cases volunteer, to help relief efforts. In addition, I’d like to add a couple resources that will directly aid the restavek population of Haiti, including The Restavek Foundation and Free the Slaves, which works in Haiti.
But as you donate money, feel empathetic, and think about ways to help Haiti this week, remember that long after the buildings are rebuilt, Haiti will still be a country built on the slavery of children. And for the restaveks, every day they are not free is another disaster.
Photo credit: Lucas the Experience