Combating Child Trafficking and Abuse in Haiti

5 February 2008


Haiti - Ahead of a forum in Vienna next week organized by the UN Global Initiative to Fight Trafficking (UNGIFT) – a partnership of four United Nations agencies, IOM and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) which aims to raise awareness of human trafficking and to find effective means of combatting it, a new video news release (VNR) by IOM today highlights the plight of an estimated 173,000 Haitian children internally trafficked for domestic servitude, known as Restavek (stay with).

Through the Restavek system, parents unable to care for their children send them to relatives or strangers living in urban areas supposedly to receive care and education in exchange for housework. But the reality is a life of hardship and abuse; enslaved by their so called “hosts”, the children seldom attend school.

Some of these children manage to escape and are picked up by the authorities and referred to the Haitian Social Welfare Institute or IBESR (Institut pour le bien-être social et la recherche), and are then taken to centres where they are cared for until their biological families can be found.

The Center for Action and Development or CAD (Centre d’action pour le développement) and L’Escale in Port-au-Prince receive financial and technical support from IOM to provide shelter, food, medical and psychosocial support for these children until their parents can be found and conditions are in place for the children to return to their families.

Geslet Bordes, Manager of IOM’s Counter-Trafficking in Children Program in Haiti says the Restavek system is a modern form of slavery and a gross violation of the most fundamental human rights. “Every person in Haiti thinks it is OK, ‘It’s not a problem to have a servant in my house’; ‘It’s OK, I am helping him or her’. What about the future? We have to think about the future.”

When the Restaveks get older and are deemed by their “hosts” as no longer manageable, they run the risk of ending up on the streets where the girls often work as servants or are forced into prostitution and the boys join the ranks of petty criminals.

Since 2005, IOM has assisted more than 300 Restavek children to reunite with their families. Fifty others have been identified and 30 are currently under rehabilitation in local shelters until enough information is obtained to identify their hometowns and families.

Twelve former Restaveks youth have also benefited from IOM’s programme through three-month vocational training and funding for setting up of shoemaking, baking and dressmaking and other small businesses.

Many Restavek children and those taken from their homes to be placed in orphanages hail from Jeremie, in the department of Grande Anse, an isolated and impoverished region in south-west Haiti. Most families in the region have between seven and nine children and the parents are unable to meet the most basic needs such as food, health care and education.

Deceptive practices in order to lead destitute parents in the country’s poorest regions to place their children with orphanages in the capital, is another form of abuse against children in Haiti.

Bordes explains: “The trafficker says to the parent, ‘You have a lot of children, you have to give one or two because you are going to receive money to have a small business, you are going to visit the US, and you have to give a chance to your child.’ So, if you are a parent you are going to think, you’re going to look at your situation, and you’re going to make the decision to give your children.”

Last August, at the request of Haitian authorities, IOM and the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) returned 48 small children that had been taken from Jeremie and were being kept in an orphanage in Port-au-Prince where they were found in a state of neglect. Their parents, too poor to cater to their needs, were deceived in sending them away in the belief that their children would be provided with food and education, and would soon return to them. However, many had already been included in international adoption procedures.

The Haitian government, with IOM’s technical support, has taken steps to draft legislation addressing the specific concerns of Haiti’s human trafficking context.

IOM activities in support of national efforts to combat trafficking in persons and to assist in the provision of social and educational support to vulnerable children returning to their families are funded by the United States Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), and from the Government of Canada and the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

Video News Release on Child Trafficking and Abuse in Haiti