There are an estimated 237,700 people in modern slavery in Haiti – this is equivalent to 2.3041% of the entire population
Haiti is the least developed country in the Americas,1 where poverty has contributed to use of the restavèk system. This is a common cultural practice that involves children being sent to work for other families, usually because their own parents do not have the means to care for them. The common understanding of this practice is that children will have access to school and be provided for in a way that their families cannot accommodate.2 However, many restavèk children experience exploitation in the home of their caretakers, including forced domestic service, and chronic verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.3
The children come from the impoverished rural areas of Haiti, or from within poor urban areas, and labour in households in the cities.4 Much of the housing in urban areas is extremely basic, lacking facilities like running water and reliable access to electricity. Everyday tasks like cooking, cleaning and fetching water can be extremely arduous, and this is why many families take on a restavèk child. Some are forced to work very long hours, performing dangerous chores or tasks, such as carrying heavy loads, being exposed to dangerous traffic, and cooking with materials that have a damaging effect on their bodies. Many are physically abused, and some sexually abused as well.5 Often, they are deprived of schooling, or where they are allowed to go sporadically, this is in such a way that they are unable to keep on top of schoolwork and fall behind or drop out.6 Restavèk children are commonly deprived of the nurturing and attention a child needs to grow and flourish.
Haitian children are also vulnerable to trafficking across the border into the Dominican Republic for domestic work, child labour and commercial sexual exploitation.7 Street children, often runaway or expelled restavèks, are vulnerable to street crime or trafficking by criminal gangs.8
Although children make up the majority of victims of modern slavery in Haiti, adult victims have also been identified in forced labour in agriculture, construction and forced prostitution within Haiti, in the Dominican Republic, other Caribbean countries, the United States, and South America.9 Up to 200 women every year are trafficked into Haiti from the Dominican Republic, for sexual exploitation.10 Women living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, which still exist four years after the earthquake of January 2010, are vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour.11
|Score||Survivors are supported||Criminal justice||Coordination and accountability||Attitudes, social systems and institutions||Business and government|
In 2014, the Government of Haiti enacted a new trafficking law,12 criminalising the recruitment, transportation, transfer or receipt of adults and children.13 The advocacy efforts of the substantial Haitian-led movement informed this law.14
The government’s child protection efforts fall under the remit of the Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBESR) and the Brigade for the Protection of Minors (BPM) of the National Police.15 The IBESR, overseen by Ministry of Work and Social Affairs, conducts the Table Sectorielle on Restavèk, which brings together Haitian and International NGOs to work together on the eradication of restavèk.16
So far this year, the BPM has assisted over 200 minors, some of which may have been restavèk children and either reunited them with their families or entrusted them to the services of the IBESR.17 However, their capacity has remained limited due to a lack of funding.18
|Slavery policy||Human rights||State stability||Discrimination||Development|
It is likely that every Haitian among the lower and middle classes grows up being exposed to the restavèk practice in some way. If not growing up in restavèk themselves, a child will be exposed to the practice within her own home or neighbourhood, and may be conditioned to perceive the practice as normal. This fuels what Haitians call sitirans, meaning acceptance or over-tolerance of the practice within Haitian society.19
The lack of industry and employment opportunities in Haiti leave many men, women and children vulnerable to exploitation within and outside of the country. The continued existence of IDP camps, as well as the pre-existing precarious living conditions of many Haitian people, mean that women and children are especially vulnerable to exploitation and sexual abuse and violence. A lack of law enforcement in many areas provides little protection to people, particularly those living in camps and in poor, heavily populated areas that are commonly run by criminal gangs.
- Implement a wide-reaching awareness campaign to educate Haitians about the new law.
- Increase law enforcement capacity and combat corruption within law enforcement to ensure that the new law is implemented on the ground.
- Follow-up reported cases of modern slavery with investigations, prosecutions and convictions of perpetrators.
- Focus on building capacity of services to assist identified victims with safe transition, rehabilitation and reintegration.
- Agricultural businesses in the Dominican Republic should ensure that Haitian workers are there of their own free will, that they are receiving a wage and that they have access to services.
- Become involved in government-led awareness campaigns to educate their workers and the surrounding community about modern slavery.
“In the afternoon, I go and fetch water and that’s quite a way from here. It takes me about one hour and a half.”
“I sleep on the floor with the other children.”
“Yesterday was a very long day for me. It was laundry day and I had to go and fetch water twice. I worked for 8 hours.”
“She gets mad and hits me sometimes.”
“They whip me.”
Children living in Restavèk describing their experiences to the US Department of Labor in 2012.
A. Cooper, P. Diego-Rosell, & C. Gogue, Child Labor in Domestic Service (Restavèks) in Portau-Prince, Haiti, (ICF International, 2012) p. 31, accessed 10/06/14: http://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/pdf/2012RestavekHaiti.pdf.
See where Haiti ranks in The Americas