Only a 90 minute plane ride from Miami, Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Three-fourths of its people are living in extreme poverty with an unemployment rate of between 60 and 70%. In this suffering economy, it has become a longstanding custom to enslave children who have been orphaned or given up by desperate families.
These children are known as restaveks, a Creole word meaning “stay with,” and they are forced to perform all household chores without receiving any compensation. In 1998, a United Nations study estimated that 300,000 such children existed. The restavek system has thrived for more than 200 years, going unnoticed by the international community until 1998, when Jean-Robert Cadet, a former restavek, published his biography: Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American.
The restavek system, although outlawed by the Haitian government, remains rampant today. The perseverance of this form of slavery leaves one wondering if social and cultural attitudes will ever change, or if it is only by finding a solution to Haiti’s severe economic problems that the restavek system will ever be dissolved.
On September 14, The Council on Hemispheric Affairs issued a press release titled Haiti’s Dirty Little Secret: the Problem of Child Slavery.