They are called restaveks, a Haitian word that means a "stay with"! They are children who are reduced to being little more than slaves. Their parents are very poor people in rural villages who have been deceived into thinking that if they send their children away to families that live in the cities, those children will have better lives. What a terrible lie! Those who "adopt" these impoverished boys and girls usually make promises that these restaveks will be able to go to school, be well fed, and be treated like the family's own children. These promises are practically always broken, however and the restaveks are forced to become unpaid domestic servants.
Restaveks are often severely abused if they balk at the endless hours of work that they have to do for those who "own" them. Even when they do what they are told, they are routinely hurt, humiliated, and sexually exploited. In some houses there is even a special leather whip called a rigoise, embedded with pieces of metal or bone, which is used to discipline these helpless children. They sleep outside or floors; they receive no formal education, and are generally treated as sub-human by those they serve. The United Nations estimates that right now there are more than a quarter of a million of these enslaved boys and girls in this country of eight million, and their number grows every day.
Our affiliate in Haiti, Beyond Borders, is deeply committed to ending the restavek system. Here is our team's action plan:
First, they are supporting small schools in rural villages so that the children there are no longer lured into the cities with the false promises of an education.
Second, they are engaged in a consciousness raising campaign to let rural people know what happens to their children once they are sent away from their families. In addition to regularly appear on radio shows that reach the most remote corners of the country, they also use billboards, music performances, bumper stickers, street theatre, and protest marches to share the truth.
Third, they are partnering with Haitian organizations that help provide economic opportunities for families in rural villages. Through their micro-credit programs and small business training, our team is endeavoring to make these families self-sufficient, so it becomes unnecessary for parents to consider offering their children to be restaveks.
Fourth, they are committed to leadership development. In order for the restavek problem to be solved, native Haitian leaders must take responsibility for protecting their country's most vulnerable children. Right now our Beyond Borders workers are exhausting themselves trying to develop such leaders.
You can teach more about these efforts at www.haitichild.org, but it boils down to this: We at EAPE and the ministry we support are doing everything we can think of to end the exploitation of children in Haiti. We know the priority Jesus places on the "little ones" of this world, and we know he has called us to give bring news to the poor and oppressed. In fighting the horrors of restavek system, we are doing our best to answer that call.
Please keep supporting this work with your prayers and gifts. Remember, we depend on friends like you.
ABOUT TONY + MAY 2006