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Child servants a blot on Haiti's abolitionist past

Dec 04 2012, 15:32 IST
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The International Labour Organisation estimates that one in 10 Haitian children is a restavek.  (Reuters) The International Labour Organisation estimates that one in 10 Haitian children is a restavek. (Reuters)
SummaryThe International Labour Organisation estimates that one in 10 Haitian children is a restavek.

has no choice but to send some away. It's a very sad situation for many mothers. They tell me, 'I have no work and no money. I have too many mouths to feed'."

Middlemen, or "koutchye", as they are known in Creole, are sometimes paid to recruit restaveks for host families living in the affluent neighbourhoods of Port-au- Prince.

But restaveks are also found living in the slums, where the lack of water and electricity means demand for child labour is high. These families, though poor, tend to be better off than those living in rural areas, and use children sent by their country relatives as restaveks in their homes.

The children are often seen going about their daily chores in the capital: carrying buckets of water on their heads or shopping at the market, lugging charcoal and firewood.

UNUSUAL WEDDING GIFT

The restavek system is driven by a combination of long-standing economic and social problems in Haiti, from widespread poverty and high unemployment to a lack of family planning and health care in rural areas.

Campaigners say the failure of the Haitian authorities to focus on the rights of children or enforce existing laws against child labour is a big contributor.

The government protests it is addressing the restavek problem by helping rural women and promoting free education.

"The government believes the best way to fight this problem is to empower poor mothers living in rural areas and to help those mothers so they don't have to give their children away," said Guy Delva, secretary of state for communications for the government of President Michel Martelly.

Initiatives include food aid and small loans to mothers as part of a $125-million-a- ear state-funded programme, and a government drive to provide free education and school meals to all Haitian children.

But the restavek tradition could not exist if it was not accepted, or at least tolerated, in Haitian culture. It is not uncommon for high society brides to ask for a little person - "ti moun" in Creole - for a wedding present.

"Some families believe they're doing their restavek children a favour by saving them from living on the streets and a life of hunger in the countryside. Some families do send their restaveks to school and feed them," said Mondesir.

But this is more the exception than the rule, she said. Most restaveks arrive at her refuge unable to

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