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#4102: Rosenita, slave at 6 : Harris gives a source

From: DeAnn Harris <sdeharris@earthlink.net>

I am responding to Rosann's article to say that there is a group that may be
interested in helping free these slave children.  It's the International Justice
Mission, P. O. Box 58147, Washington, DC  20037-8147.  It was founded in 1994
when a group of human rights professionals, lawyers & public officials launched
an extensive study of the injustices witnessed by overseas ministries
representing 40,000 Christian workers and revealed that over 75% encountered
abuses of power by police and local authorities in the communities where they
serve.  IJM takes referrals from overseas missionaries and relief workers, and
through professional, confidential investigations, works to document the abuses
and intervene on behalf of the victims.  You can email michelleconn@ijm.org if

DeAnn Harris

Robert Corbett wrote:

> From: Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>
> Haitian Labor Code
> The Haitian Labor Code: ''No child under the age of twelve may be entrusted
> to a family in order to be employed in domestic work.''
> It also prohibits children from working during school hours and mandates
> they get 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. It requires owners to
> return the restavek to her family when it no longer has use for her.
> Punishment is supposedly a fine of 1000 to 3000 gourdes, or $50 to $150 but
> is rarely if ever enforced
> Rosenita, slave at 6
> By Ellen Lord, Post staff reporter
> PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Elimina Joseph, 51, sells sandals in a neighborhood
> market from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. The money she earns with her basket of colorful
> flip-flops pays to send her three sons to private schools, but it is not
> enough for her to hire domestic help.
> Instead, she has found a 6-year-old slave girl, Rosenita Joseph, to do her
> chores. The emaciated girl sits under a table nearby, coming out to wash
> Mrs. Joseph's dishes in a metal pail of dirty water or do other tasks. She
> does not attend school.
> The girl, called a restavek, is one of thousands of children given up by
> destitute parents in the countryside and brought to Haiti's cities for
> promises of an education and better life. Most end up slaving for abusive
> masters who feed them little and keep them from school.
> Restaveks used to belong only to the well-to-do, but now that workers are
> cheap (a cook costs as little as $25 a month), the wealthier can afford paid
> help, and in the past 20 to 30 years the restavek system has been embraced
> by the lower classes.
> ''It's a problem that we cannot solve easily because it's not me who has the
> child in slavery, it is my maid,'' said Mathilde Flambert, Haiti's minister
> of social affairs, through a translator. ''Someone who has a restavek is (a
> person) who does not have any money to pay someone to help them in the
> home.''
> The poor farmers and peasants who have migrated to the city to become cheap
> laborers and market vendors find themselves in need of someone to clean,
> baby-sit and run errands.
> Some, like Joseph Andre Dodo, who lives in the Port-au-Prince slum of
> Bertin, have no job at all, but still keep a restavek. Gladys Joseph, a
> 7-year-old restavek, stays with Dodo, his three children and his
> sister-in-law in a two-room cinder block house. Dodo says Gladys is a
> relative whose parents could not afford to feed her, but the girl says she
> is not treated like other children in the family.
> ''They only go to school. They don't do anything,'' she says. ''I wash the
> dishes all by myself in the afternoon. I fetch water.''
> >From the look of her gaunt, withered body, she doesn't eat nearly as much as
> the other children, including another 7-year-old, Stephie Dodo, who has
> full, rosy cheeks, a necklace, earrings and a bow in her hair.
> ''They give me a little sweet potato and a little rice to eat,'' said
> Gladys, who has had a fever for a day but hasn't seen a doctor. ''The other
> girls eat rice with sauce and meat.''
> Getting a restavek involves an almost ritual deception.
> The potential owner travels - or has someone go for them - to the
> countryside. It is important to act rich - to be in Sunday dresses and
> suits, carrying radios - which are a status symbol in the poor rural areas.
> The poor rural parents, who frequently cannot afford to feed all their
> children, are promised the child will be educated, fed and cared for.
> ''But most often it is not true,'' said Leslie Jean Jumeau, administrator of
> Foyer Maurice Sixto, a non-profit school in western Port-au-Prince that
> feeds and educates about 350 restaveks. ''Those children become a slave at
> their owner's house and he (the restavek) is very often mistreated. He does
> not eat normally. He works a lot.''
> The parents, in their desperation, are unaware of the true conditions their
> children will endure.
> ''I think there is an information gap where the parents don't really know
> what happens,'' said David Weissbrodt, co-director of the University of
> Minnesota Human Rights Center. ''You're assuming telephones. You're assuming
> means of communication that don't happen in Haiti.''
> The parents believe their child is better off leaving the countryside where
> three-fourths of Haiti's 8 million inhabitants live in metal shacks with no
> running water or electricity. Less than 30 percent of rural people have
> access to water from a clean stream or well and less than 20 percent to
> adequate sanitation. Most cannot read.
> ''In the idea of the parent, he or she doesn't know that his child is living
> in misery. He knows that his child has gone to Port-au-Prince, that he is
> living in a big house,'' said Godfroy Boursiquot, producer of a radio
> program for kids on Radio Haiti.
> One villager in Bonnet, a small collection of shacks along National #4
> highway east of Port-au-Prince, said outsiders have come before to get
> children for household work. If the person looks trustworthy, promises to
> educate the child and gives the mother a small gift, an arrangement can
> usually be made, he said.
> ''For you, because you are a journalist. . . if you want a child, I will
> arrange it for you right now,'' said Alexander Frankel, 47, to a visiting
> American.
> Most of the parents never see their children again. Those who could afford
> to travel to the city for a visit or who try to talk to their child are
> frequently blocked by the child's new owners.
> Parents who do go see their child and realize the abuse do not return, said
> Dr. Legrand Bijoux, a psychiatrist who has made a count of restaveks in
> Haiti for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
> ''If the child is mistreated, the mother would see that and not being able
> to take the child back, she would stop visiting,'' he said. ''She would not
> keep any kind of contact and the child would not know how to go back (to
> her).''
> Once gone, restaveks rarely find their way home on their own. They either do
> not remember how to get back or cannot afford fare to the countryside.
> Meanwhile, the restavek's owner climbs a rung in the social strata. The
> restavek system flourishes in part because of the sharp class divisions in
> Haiti.
> The strict social hierarchy puts the upper crust elite at the envy of all
> and leaves those below fighting to climb the ladder. Having distinction
> above someone else - a hired hand or a restavek - is essential to social
> worth.
> ''Everybody's competing for the best of everything,'' said Philippe Carl
> Vilfort, a Haitian-American who is the boy ''Oliver'' in Cincinnatian
> Jean-Robert Cadet's autobiographical account of his life as a restavek.
> ''I remember being the first family on the block having color television,''
> said Vilfort, ''and that's when I got respect from the mulatto kids.''
> Class tyranny permeates contemporary society in Haiti. Children and women
> are considered second class and commonly abused; Haitian National Police
> intimidate and abuse their authority; teachers taunt and ridicule their
> students.
> The current government, which has its hands full dealing with a dying
> economy, a poor and unhealthy public and crime and corruption even in its
> own ranks, has historically only given lip service to international rights
> groups and actually done little.
> ''The biggest violator of human rights is the government. The biggest
> violator of the Labor Code is the government,'' said one political advisor
> and businessman who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
> Children have even fewer rights - a parent can legally send her child to
> jail as discipline. And restaveks have fewer still.
> The restavek too often is left roaming dirt streets barefoot with the bony
> dogs and skinny pigs.
> Publication date: 06-05-00