PORT-AU-PRINCE (TrustLaw) - Haitian law prohibits child slavery and labour, and the country is party to several conventions protecting the rights of children.
Despite these laws, child slavery is a persistent and growing problem in the Caribbean nation.
Child slaves are known in Haitian Creole as restaveks, a word that comes from the French "rester avec" or "to stay with".
The restavek system is a deeply engrained tradition in Haiti where children, often from rural areas, are sent to stay with richer relatives and or acquaintances in the hope that they will be given a better life.
Here are some facts about child labour laws in Haiti and the restavek system:
- Haiti's labour laws prohibit the employment of children below the age of 15. A law passed in 2003 specifically outlawed child domestic work and the placement of children into restavek service.
- Haiti is party to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UHDR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In 2007, Haiti also ratified the ILO Convention for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour and the Minimum Age Convention in 2009. All these conventions ban child slavery, protect children from inhuman treatment and the right of children to have access to free basic education.
- Reliable figures on the number of restaveks in Haiti are hard to come by. The United Nations' child agency (UNICEF) estimates there are 225,000 children, mostly girls, working as restaveks in Haiti. But some put the figure at 500,000 children.
- Around 3,000 Haitian children work as restaveks in neighbouring Dominican Republic. Every year, up to 14,000 Haitian workers are hired to work in the Dominican Republic's sugarcane industry, where Haitian children are to be found working, particularly in the country’s southeast Barahona province.
- Children become restaveks as young as five years old.
- Most restaveks work as unpaid servants in the homes of relatives or family acquaintances. They often suffer verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.
- The average 15-year-old restavek stands 4 cm shorter and weighs 20 kg less than the average Haitian child – a result of malnourishment.
- There are several thousand street children living in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. It is thought many are former restaveks, who have been dismissed or have fled from their abusive families.
(Sources: International Labour Organisation (ILO); US State Department, United Nations’ children’s agency, UNICEF)