Child servants a blot on Haiti's abolitionist past

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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.

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 read and write, malnourished and with scars from beatings. Sexual abuse, including rape, is not uncommon.

"They've all been deprived of love and maternal affection," said psychologist Luckenson Dardompre, who works and lives at the refuge.

"But the source of their trauma is the mistreatment they've received for years, including rape and sexual abuse. Many are beaten by the families they live with, by the father, mother, uncles and aunts."

The abuse, isolation and loneliness restaveks have endured is hard for them to overcome, he said. "Some have suicidal thoughts. Other children will tell you about the abuse they've experienced using exactly the same words every time for weeks. It's something they can't forget," Dardompre said.

SAFE HAVEN

The spacious and clean refuge, with its mountain and sea views, is a safe haven for the children. Here they receive three meals a day, go to school and play.

Inside the girls' plain dormitory are rows of neatly made bunk beds. For the first time in her life, Denois can sleep on a proper bed and not on the floor. She cherishes her few belongings - a toothbrush and cup, a teddy bear, some pens and a change of clothes - which she keeps in her own locker.

"Before I never had the time to play and now I do. No-one bothers me. I found people that love me, they give me what I need," Denois said.

At the canteen during lunchtime, the only sound that can be heard is the

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