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Subject: 709: Tradition of child slavery


Published Sunday, October 10, 1999, in the Miami Herald 
 Exposed: Tradition of child slavery__--- Haitian activists seek to stop

 A slight teen sits in a Fort Lauderdale apartment whispering hints
about her years as a child slave in Haiti -- the beatings, the burdens,
the humiliations. At age 5, Charlyne arose before the sun to haul
buckets of water from a ravine, scrub clothes and tend the cooking for a
Port-au-Prince family who fed her meagerly and lashed her with a leather
whip. Now 16 and reunited with the mother who unwittingly left her in
servitude, she's so haunted by her history that she hoards food under
her bed as if she were still starving.  ``They called me restavec,'' she
said, using the Creole word for a century-old system of unpaid child
labor in Haiti that has been exported to South Florida, but kept
 largely secret. 

Until now. 

The allegation last week that a Haitian-American family in Pembroke
Pines had enslaved and abused a 12-year-old girl, making her cook and
wash for the family without pay, has forced many Haitian-Americans to
denounce a system widespread in their homeland. Haitian-American
activists in South Florida are  questioning how many immigrant children
here are being exploited in exchange for room, board and the broken
promise of a better life. ``It's very common, unfortunately,'' said
Danielle Romer, executive director of Haitian Support Inc. in Miami. The
agency's hotline logs five or six restavec-related calls monthly.
 ``A lot of those cases didn't make the paper.'' Leonie Hermantin of the
Haitian American Foundation agreed that the Pembroke Pines case is
extreme -- the girl allegedly was sexually abused -- but not unique
 in South Florida. ``This case had all the elements of the restavec
system in Haiti,'' Hermantin said.  The state Department of Children and
Families hasn't documented other restavec cases here, spokespeople said.
But they acknowledge they haven't known what to look for. 
 ``Through what we have learned here, we will be doing better in the
future,'' said Lynette Beal, spokeswoman for the department in Broward.
 Last year, 12-year-old Marie Joseph was gunned down while working in
 Allapattah. She hadn't been to school in a year, and her brother
accused the woman she lived with of enslaving her as a restavec.


 Haitian Support Inc.'s hotline gets five or six restavec-related calls
monthly. Some callers worry a neighbor is overworking a young
houseguest. Others are adult survivors of child labor in Haiti or the
United States, Romer said. Among Haitian Support's recent cases:

 A girl whose parents sent her from Haiti at 11 with a family they hoped
would educate her. Instead, the family worked her constantly and their
son molested her. ``I don't think she ever called the police,'' Romer
said. ``She left when she turned 18.'' A 13-year-old whose Haitian
parents placed her on a Miami-bound boat in the care of neighbors
complained that her new family overworked and verbally abused
 her. ``The girl didn't have the liberty to go anywhere until she
cleaned everything in the house,'' Romer said. ``She had to cook, iron
everybody else's clothes and do the groceries -- a lot of things maids
do, but at least they get paid.'' A teen abandoned here by a relative
did housework for a family in exchange for room and board. ``She didn't
feel she was mistreated by doing the work because she was paying her way
to be there,'' Romer said. But an adult in the house impregnated her,
and the state took custody of her. Exploitation of child laborers is not
unique to any single culture. In July, a New York City child abuse
investigator was accused of forcing a Nigerian girl into servitude. In
1993, a former Miami-Dade Community College professor was convicted of
enslaving a young West African girl.


 In Haiti, forcing children to work as unpaid servants is broadly
accepted, and there are few agencies or government watchdogs to rescue
abused children. A 1990 study by the Minnesota Lawyers International
Human Rights Committee concluded there were 240,000 restavecs in Haiti.
 ``The restavec is probably the ugliest instance of a whole lot of ugly
things that are the result of desperation, poverty and marginalization,
not having any recourse,'' said the Rev. Thomas Wenski, auxiliary bishop
of the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami. Typically, poor rural Haitian
children are sent to live with urban families to do housework in
exchange for an education and a chance at a better life. But host
 families don't always send restavecs to school. While it is possible
that the child could benefit from the arrangement, abuse is
 rampant, activists say. ``Anything goes as far as ill-treatment,'' said
Jocelyn McCalla, executive director of the New York-based National
Coalition for Haitian Rights, whose organization is seeking to end the
restavec system. ``The rape of young girls is far more common
 than usually acknowledged in Haiti or Haitian immigrant communities.''


 ``We need to rally for the elimination of this practice,'' McCalla
said. Haiti's consul general in Miami, Jean-Gabriel Augustin, declined
to discuss the issue. He referred questions to the minister of social
affairs in Haiti, who also declined to comment. Valerie Marzouka, 29,
who works as a victim advocate for the North Miami Police Department,
finds it increasingly uncomfortable to see restavecs at work in
 homes of friends and family in Haiti. ``It's horrible,'' Marzouka said.
``They should be playing outside and going to school. But they are
working. I felt like crying. It's slavery.'' A growing number of Haitian
activists in this country want to end child slavery in Haiti and be more
vigilant about its vestiges here.


 Activists denounced the practice on Creole-language radio in Miami last
week. They urged restavec listeners to seek help, asked those who
exploit them to stop. For Charlyne, it's too late. The Fort Lauderdale
teen is nearly broken by years of hard labor and abuse. The lash marks
on her legs and back have healed. But she's withdrawn, has few
 friends and hasn't bonded with the mother who left her behind to seek a
better life in Florida. Charlyne speaks little, but expresses her rage
at abandonment, at times slashing her mother's clothing and furniture
with knives and scissors. For all she has lost, Charlyne has this hope:
for all children ``to live with their parents.''