Haiti’s heartbreaking New Year: What about restaveks?

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….