Just saw a cnn piece about a four year old waiting to be reunited with his family–waiting and waiting. The number of those successfully reunited with families after the quake is distressingly small, relative to the enormous Haitian child welfare problem. The bbc piece, link below, is on those who have (even before the quake) been working with the many Haitian “phantom” children–those for whom there is nothing, and no one.
Read it and weep.
The Haitian earthquake raised a huge number of moral/ethical dilemmas relating to children. In my International Children’s Rights class, we had several lively discussions about the nature of the restavek system, in which tens of thousands of Haitian children are involved. At best, recourse to restavek represents a decision by severely impoverished parents to have their children fed and sheltered; at worst, it is essentially a system of slavery….Sexual abuse, deprivation of education and nutrition, and a total dead end in terms of life prospects are all endemic in the restavek system. (A Haitian student of mine told me that it is common for girl restaveks to eventually become pregnant and to end up rejected by everyone.) The earthquake, of course, made things worse than they had been previously. One cnn story in particular haunted me:
In this story, the Unicef worker must decide whether to allow a girl to leave the UN facility, when she had expressed a strong wish not to be returned to the “godfather” for whom she had been a restavek servant. In the end, because the girl’s father said that she should come along with them, Unicef decided to allow her to go. Commentators felt sure that she would ultimately be returned to the godfather….You can see in the photo how painfully, worryingly thin the girl is…..
Maybe I am missing something, but I don’t recall hearing from the international child welfare establishment that the restavek system must end now, must be stopped, and that the children caught up in that system must be set free and placed in appropriate care. No one defends the system, of course, but what does this kind of tepid quasi-acceptance mean?
One can do a trawl of the anti-adoption websites from a few months ago, warning in dire terms about the pro-adoption predators waiting to swoop down to take advantage of Haiti’s woes and steal Haiti’s children–But where is there someone to do a clear, objective study of what is going on with the children who are living as restaveks, as well as those who had been in the many hundreds of orphanages? (The system of unregistered and unregulated Haitian orphanages has been dealt with before on this website..)–This should take place with a determination to ensure that all or at least many of those children who really need alternatives get then. I am pretty sure the child welfare commentators would not want a restavek life for themselves or anyone they care about. Read through the cnn story–it is truly heartbreaking….
I often feel enormous impatience at the way in which orphans and orphanages are described and “covered”–to the extent that they are–not only in the media, but by various commentators and organizations. This stems from my unwillingness to simply accept tens of thousands of children living without families as part of the sad global landscape.
One website gives a tiny sense of the vast network of orphanages in the world–most countries have many, many childcare institutions. See http://www.orphanage.org The vast majority of orphanages are not represented here, but it gives a small idea of how disorganized and unregulated global orphan policy is.
I have been reading a bit about Haiti and its ever-growing orphan problem. See for example http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2009/08/09/Haitian-disabled-kids-discarded/UPI-49771249863062/
The article states that “with about 50,000 children living in Haitian orphanages, the plight of disabled children gets lost. A child protection officer with Unicef says ‘it is unknown exactly how many disabled children are abandoned yearly.’ ”
As in many countries, the problem of abandoned children generally and the related problem of children abandoned specifically because of their disabilities come together in a terrible social crisis. Further reading indicates that there is no inspection service or even method of registering orphanages in Haiti. No one seems to know how many there are. Fragmented commentary finds the usual vitriol on the subject of orphanages profiteering and selling children–little of it coherent or enlightening.
I am constantly struck by the importance of promoting a global orphan assessment, whereby countries would be first called to account and then assisted in bringing some light to these neglected children.