In Septemeber 2008, I traveled 6000 miles to Haiti's Kenscoff mountains. My mission: to care for some of the orphaned and abandoned, the sick, malnourished and premature infants of this beautiful but beleagured Caribbean nation.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

My heart broke for Haiti's children.

I think I first started reading about the plight of Haitian children in 2003, in a report by a human rights organisation. I cant find it now, but it made grim reading.

Later, I learnt about child slaves: children between the ages of 3 and 15 who work as domestic labourers. Usually they are given up by poor rural families who have no means of providing for them and hope that their child will have better opportunities in the city. Others are former street children, kidnapped by organised gangs and sold to families to fund the gang's activities in Port-a-Prince.

They are know as restaveks, a Kreyol euphemism which literally means someone who "stays with" others. In bonded labour, children find hardship, which is often worse than they have ever known. They work long hours fetching water, cooking and cleaning, washing and ironing clothes, running errands and caring for younger children. They have no status in the families who buy them, often sleeping on concrete floors, under kitchen tables. They endure severe beatings and sexual abuse.

These children are invisible to government agencies and in practice, few of their rights are respected. Unpaid, many will not receive enough food to support their growth and most do not attend school. The nature of their work predisposes them to ill-health and injury but the families who "take them in" rarely obtain medical care for them. Most child labourers will never again see their birth families.

15 year old Evans' wont look directly into the camera and seems to avoid the interviewer's gaze. Every day, this teenage boy, who was taken in by relatives after his parents died, dusts himself off, puts on a pair of toe-less shoes and gets to work. The journalist who interviewed him noticed that Evans didn't smile, even once, in all the time they spent together. In return for food and a roof over his head, he does all the house work and labours in his uncle's fields.

Evan's says that that his best efforts are often not enough.. The family tell him he is useless. Once, they tied his hands behind his back, put a bag over his head and beat him. They keep reminding him about all they do for him. Evans is one of the "lucky" retavek children who attended school for a while, but when he passed on the school's request for payment of tuition fees to his family, they called him a liar. He got beaten for that too. That was the end of his school days.

Evans is 1 of 300,000 child slaves living in Haiti, a country with a child population of 3 million. 300, 000 is too big a number to comprehend, but my heart broke, and still breaks to think that while luxurious passenger ships sail the Caribbean blue, 1 in 10 of Haiti's children are living like Evans. Yet for a long time, I said no to Haiti.

You can watch part of Evans' interview in this news documentary about Haiti's indentured child labourers;

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