Site Loader

The Haitian restavek system has been a widely accepted cultural practice that uses young children as domestic servants in urban households. Chattel slavery is a form of modern-day slavery that has helped wealthy Haitian families thrive; however, the restavek system has provoked advocation for violence against women to maintain order. Restavek children are subjected to harsh treatment including sexual and physical abuse, exploitation, over work, and malnutrition. Chattel slavery is also referred to as domestic servitude and has changed how children are viewed by the world and Haitian society. This treatment has also sparked intense debate and discussion on the human rights of children.
The restavek system is classified as both chattel slavery and child labor. Chattel slavery is a form a modern-day slavery that involves the buying, selling, birth, or capture of people to work in servitude. Restavek children could be abandoned and picked up by families in search of domestic servants. Child labor is a result of parents selling children into conditions that demand them to be overworked, malnourished, or sold into prostitution. This new type of slavery occurs in many third world countries. The restavek system is not prostitution, despite the possibility of rape or molestation serving as punishment for disobedience. The Human Rights Watch reported in 2014 that restavek children are not protected by the Haitian labor code because “it does not set a minimum age to work in domestic services (Human Rights Watch, 2014 p. 257).” This means that even though slavery is illegal, Haitian restaveks can be used as live in servants in the household. It is hard to calculate how many children are being kept as restaveks because of how many of them come from poor families and are unaccounted for, but it is estimated that there are 225,000 restaveks in Haiti (Human Right Watch, 2014 p.257).
The international nations in partnership with Haiti have begun to take steps to change the futures of restavek children (Todres, 2010 p. 123). The United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has been able to provide strategies to counteract threats that restaveks are exposed to. These threats include unavailable access to health care and equal opportunities, unwise use of government funds, and broken families (Todres, 2010 p.123-124). The way many restaveks are treated suggests that Haitian culture disregards their human rights, or it simply doesn’t exist for poor children. The conditions that restaveks are in also suggest that the Haitian economy is functioning in inefficiency. The Haitian government has failed to actively prohibit the use of underaged domestic workers (Bell, 2013 p.144). The values of Haitian families have demonstrated disregard for the health and safety of children. Restaveks have not been able to vocalize their point of views because of fear. Their input could have an impact on Haiti because restavek cases have the potential to encourage international nations to provide financial support (Todres 2010, p.125).
Families have been made significantly poorer following the earthquake (Todres 2010, p.125). It is suggested that the number of restaveks has increased due to children being separated from their family or becoming orphans (Bell, 2013 p.143). Conditions before and after the earthquake have caused children to make the streets their home. International aid has been trying help raise the poverty line and decrease the conditions of poverty that force parents to sell their children as servants. However, so many children are affected which makes it hard to change the social and economic systems (Bell, 2013 p.144). This cultural practice of having restavek children is discriminatory toward children who come from poor families and causes social division. Children in families above the poverty line are a minority, therefore any of those children can go from poor and free to poorer and enslaved. The child abuse and violence against women has been exposed to the world in way that no longer allows countries to turn away.
The harshness of the restavek system has severely impacted the overall well-being of Haitian children. According to Duramy, girls and women are victims of sexual violence as a direct result of cultural repression. Women are supposed to be inferior and submissive in Haitian culture (Durmay, 2014 p.40). This observation and research explain the reasoning behind the dominating use of female restaveks. Women are expected to take care of basic household responsibilities and the same expectations are held for domestic servants. Failure to do so results in severe punishments that include beatings, starvation, molestation, and rape. In addition to being victimized, women embody the roles of motherhood and childbearing. Children “promote the household economy” which means that the restavek children serve as vital roles in household function (Duramy, 2014 p.41). Children who are bought, sold or given to relatives as restaveks are taken in with open arms because of the benefit to household efficiency. The poverty rate in Haiti is extremely high, which rules out the ability for poor families to take care of their children and forces them to unknowingly sell their children into worse conditions (Duramy, 2014 p.44). These poverty conditions have allowed for restaveks to become untraceable in the system and makes it harder to save these children (Duramy, 2014 p.45). The result of violence against women, specifically domestic servants, has traumatized many of them into silence (Duramy, 2014 p.50) and left permanent physical scars. The disciplinary tactics used against restaveks has significantly impacted their personal views of themselves and results in severe psychological trauma.
The restavek system is a tradition of Haitian culture that dates back hundreds of years. Recently, many people in Haiti along with other nations have begun to look down upon the restavek system, but changing these conditions is a slow process that begins from inside out. The restavek children who have been placed in harmful and dangerous conditions are not expected to see a quick change. This is a direct result of the poverty line that affects many Haitian families. The impact of chattel slavery in Haiti has changed the way children see themselves and has also changed the availability of opportunities for education, health care, and fair treatment. The violent cases of rape and molestation have kept the restavek system going, but since efforts been made to help restavek children, the traditional Haitian culture could be uprooted and force wealthy families to adapt new customs. The harshness that the restavek children endure has remained constant while the number of restaveks has increased. The United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child suggests that the restavek system violates the rights of Haitian children and does not provide enough resources or protection for poor children. In order for the restavek system to be eliminated, the government must work to eliminate the unfair traditions of children stricken by poverty. This solution however, is complicated because it again forces the nationwide adaption and adjustment to new traditions.
Haiti is plagued by extreme conditions of poverty that drive the incentive for traditional Haitian practices to exist. The restavek system is an essential part of the Haitian household structure. The human rights of children have never been a concern for wealthy families until the conditions endured by restaveks were exposed. By that time, it was too late to simply outlaw the system because so many children were involved. Restaveks have served to provide flexibility in the lifestyles of wealthy families, but they have been suffering constantly by means of sexual violence, discrimination, being over worked, malnourishment, abandonment, and exploitation. Poverty has driven the use of chattel slavery in Haiti. There have not been any historical acts that have challenged the use of the restavek system because the restaveks has played such a significant role in boosting household efficiency.

Post Author: admin