Haiti has over 300,000 children working under slavery-like conditions. The Creole term for these child workers, who are oftentimes girls, is “restavek”, translated literally as “stay with”. Out of desperation, many families see no other option but to send their children to the slightly less impoverished homes, where they work for room, board and, theoretically, school costs. Many restaveks are treated miserably by these families, as they face physical and sexual abuse and receive paltry food and clothing.
Nicholas Kristof spent a week with thirteen-year-old Marilaine, who managed to escape the family she worked for in Port-Au-Prince. Marilaine, one of 12 children from a single mother, was born in a village lacking both public education and family planning facilities. She recalls that at age 10, when one day she set out to ask her father for school money, he took her into the city to become a restavek. With the assistance of the Restavek Freedom Foundation, Marilaine escaped her “host family” and entered a safe house, where she received a warm welcome; the family for whom she worked, on the other hand, was furious and threatened to burn down the school Marilaine attended because it had aided in “abducting” the girl.
Marilaine was eventually returned to her village, where she must remain, even though she would prefer to live at the safe house in Port-Au-Prince; her mother was not enthusiastic about seeing her again. The fate of Marilaine and thousands of other Haitian children is truly worrisome. Kristof suggests that in order to help Haitians out of poverty, and to prevent them from having to send their children to fend for themselves, providing free education and family planning could be helpful steps in the right direction.
Editor’s note: This article was amended on 17 January, 2013 to correct a reference to the organisation who assisted Mailaine to leave her host family. This was the Restavek Freedom Foundation, not the Restavek Freedom Alliance.