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#667: Restaveks article (1990) (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

This appeared in the Miami Herald's Tropic supplement nine years ago.  I
think it's still the most substantial article in the mainstream press on
the subject to date.

Greg Chamberlain


(Miami Herald, 30 Dec 1990)



Twelve-year-old  Judith  Marcena  is  running  for her life in ripped, pink
plastic  sandals.  On  the  busy  Route des Dalles, she jumps over charcoal
piles,  elbows  past avocado vendors, leaps over garbage and slides through

     The  devil  is  chasing  her.  He's  red with a pointy tail and pointy
mustache.  But  his scowling face is very young, the face of the little boy
that used to be Judith's master, in her last house.

     The  devil-boy is taunting Judith, cursing her with the bluntest, most
humiliating  word  for  what  she is. "Restavek! You're worthless, no good.
You're a restavek! Restavek!"

     The  nights  that  Judith has that dream, she says, are the nights she
goes to sleep too exhausted to pray to God.

     The  following  mornings,  Judith invariably awakes with a fright and,
for  a  change,  doesn't  mind  getting  up at 5 a.m., the typical restavek
waking hour. That's an hour before anyone else rises in her one-room house,
which  sits  on  a  Port-au-Prince  hilltop  beneath  Fort  Mercredi,  in a
shantytown called Under the Fort.

     Those  mornings,  Judith  springs  off the dirt floor where she sleeps
below the beds of the family she serves. She slips into a red dress stained
with  dirt  and  sweat  and gets right to her first task. As the other kids
snore, Judith pushes aside the corrugated tin that covers the doorway, then
crouches to lift the bucket in the corner.

     She  walks outside into a morning darkness of barking dogs and crowing
roosters, working her way downhill to a mound of trash.

     There  she  spills  the  bucket and pauses as dawn breaks beneath her,
over the harbor of Port-au-Prince and over all the other children just like
her,  restavek  children  whose day begins with jete pipi: emptying chamber
pots, dumping their masters' urine.
     The  Haitian government believes that at least one in every 20 Haitian
children is, like Judith, an indentured servant, a restavek.

     None  of  those  kids,  however,  likes to be known by that label. The
literal  translation  is  mild: "live-withs." But the social translation is
brutal.  To be a restavek is to be an untouchable, the ultimate have-not in
a society of have-nots.

     "Restavek  is  one  of  the  worst  slurs  you  could be called," says
Jacqueline  Regis,  37,  now  a  lawyer  in Minnesota, and once, briefly, a
restavek  in Les Cayes. "It puts you down socially so bad that it makes you
feel completely worthless."

     In  the  classic  restavek  scenario, needy rural Haitian parents give
away  children  --  usually  girls -- to urban families, with the hope that
they be not only fed but sent to school, offered a chance in life.

     In  the  classic  scenario,  that  hope  is all too frequently dashed.
Instead  of  being  delivered  into  a  better  future,  the kids are being
condemned to a life on the margins of their society.

     The  restavek  phenomenon  is  as  deeply  and  complexly ingrained in
Haitian culture as it is ubiquitous -- a vestige, some say, of colonialism;
a symptom, some say, of a society so poor, so ill that the servitude of its
children is little more than a necessary fact of life.

     "The  issue  isn't  black and white," says Pierre Raynand, head of the
tiny Haitian Children's Rights Defense League. "Some young domestics do not
fare so badly; others are treated like beasts of burden. Some are even sent
to school; others are brutally beaten and sexually abused."

     But  after  generations  of  acceptance,  some  Haitians  are  growing
increasingly uncomfortable with the restavek tradition -- especially as the
concept  of  human  rights  begins to take hold in the post-Duvalier years.
They've  grown  uncomfortable enough to at least search for new euphemisms,
avoiding  the  traditional  slur,  calling  kids like Judith "domestics" or
"timoun qui rete ak moun," little people who live with big people.

     Which, to some Haitians, is a cloaked way of saying "slave."

     "It's  slavery, pure and simple," says Jean Robert Chery, an outspoken
child  psychologist  in  Port-au-Prince.  "That's  why it's one subject you
can't really touch in Haiti. It's the raw nerve of our society."

        Turn  a corner in Port-au-Prince and a pretty little girl in a torn
pink  dress  is  squatting on an overturned can, scrubbing clothes as other
children  toss  a  ball as if she weren't there. She says her name is Mona,
and  that  she's  12, although she looks little more than 7. Her last name?
Mona shrugs.

     Round  a bend and there's another little girl scurrying up a hill with
a  pail  of trash. She's Giselle, dirty and raggedy in a ripped T-shirt and
flowered  shorts.  No,  she  doesn't live with her mama, she lives with big
people,  she  says,  her eyes darting about. Restaveks aren't used to being
addressed,  especially  in  gentle tones, especially by foreigners. Giselle
begins to sweat, and runs away.

     To search out restavek children in Haiti is to search for shadows in a
shadowy  society.  The  phenomenon is elusive, because it is both something
very  open  and  something  very  closed.  The restaveks are everywhere but
people rarely pay them any attention.

     "During one of my first trips to Haiti, in the 1950s, I was shocked to
see  a  little  restavek  girl  sleeping under a sitting room table, like a
dog,"  says Bernard Diederich, a veteran Caribbean correspondent and author
of  Papa  Doc,  a  classic  book  on  Francois Duvalier. "But as I began to
understand  the complexities of Haitian society, this became something that
I, like the Haitians, didn't really notice."

     There  are  no  social agencies that look after restaveks, no advocacy
groups   that  take  up  their  plight  exclusively.  People  who  live  in
Port-au-Prince  say  the restavek custom is really a provincial phenomenon;
people  in  the  provinces  say  it's a problem of the capital. The Haitian
government's social welfare agency says 120,000 to 200,000 restaveks are in
the country -- but it's not really sure.

     In  the middle and upper classes, people are reluctant to talk: "It is
almost  a taboo subject because they have all committed the act," Diederich

     And  even  the  few people who work with children are hesitant, afraid
that outsiders might judge their society too severely: "I don't want anyone
to  use  this  information  to  come  to  the  conclusion that Haitians are
savages," says children's rights defender Pierre Raynand.

     In  search of restavek children, Haitian photographer Daniel Morel led
me through the streets of the capital to the busy, rutted Route des Dalles.
At  a well, a clump of little children waited for water with black oil cans
and white buckets. How to tell which were poor kids helping with the family
chores, which restaveks?

     "It's easy to pick out the restaveks," Morel said. "It's not just that
they're  smaller  and dirtier. It's that they always have such a frightened
look, like little animals."

        I stopped a sweet little girl named Natasha, who said she was 3 but
looked 8. (Many restaveks don't know their age.)

     "Who do you live with?" I asked.

     "With my auntie," she whispered.

     "And your mother, where is she?" I asked gently.

     "Deyo,"   she   whispered,  literally,  "outside,"  somewhere  in  the

     In  minutes,  Natasha and Daniel and I were surrounded by children. We
asked questions. They answered: "Give us money." Soon, such an unruly crowd
had  gathered  that  Daniel and I walked away, past hand-painted carts with
bottles  of  sweet-colored  liquids, past huge blocks of ice lying on large
wooden spools.

     "The  kids  say,  'auntie,'  " Daniel said, "but they're talking about
their boss."

     Before  long,  a  girl tugged at my skirt. "I'm one," she said. "I'm a
little person who lives with big people." Then she began to cry softly.

     Judith  Marcena,  baby-blue barrettes in her hair, had followed behind
us  down  15  city blocks. She wanted to tell her story. She also hoped she
might  get  something in return, like $1 for plastic sandals to replace the
torn ones that barely stayed on her feet.

     Sitting on a stoop, with a light rain falling, Judith told us she used
to  live  with  her  mother  in  Petit Gove, a southern town on the Gulf of
Gonave.  When she was 10, her father announced he was sending her to school
in  the  city.  He packed a large colored scarf with her few belongings and
took her on a series of tap-taps, or buses, to Port-au-Prince. They arrived
late  one  night  at  a concrete house that had not only electricity, but a
small  television  set.  It  was  the  home  of  one of her father's former

     Judith  said  her father left early the next morning. "He doesn't want
you.  He  gave  you  to  me, and you'll do as I say," her "stepmother" told
Judith.  When  Judith  asked  when  she was starting school, her stepmother
laughed.  "She told me I was too stupid to learn to read, and I should give
thanks that I didn't have to live in the streets," Judith said.

     The  stepmother  made  Judith  work day and night. She had to dump the
chamber  pot  and  the trash, take the other kids to and from school, fetch
the water from the well, prepare the kids' meals, wash the dishes and clean
the house. She would wake up at 5 a.m. and go to bed at 11 p.m.

     Her  stepmother beat her for the slightest transgression, Judith said.
When  a sympathetic neighbor gave her 50 centimes, or 12 cents, to buy some
food,  the stepmother accused her of stealing and threw a rock at her head.
The  little  kids  in  the  house  would hold their noses and call Judith a
smelly  restavek;  Judith  was allowed to bathe only on Saturdays, although
she washed the other kids daily.

     After a year, desperately unhappy, Judith worked up the courage to ask
the  sympathetic  neighbor  to find her mother's stepsister, the only other
person she knew in Port-au-Prince. The stepaunt, who is dirt poor, came and
took  Judith  away,  with  the  understanding  that Judith would now be her
restavek.  At  her  stepaunt's,  Judith  is still the one who sleeps on the
floor and does the bulk of the housework.

     But  she eats the same meager food as the others in the house, and the
stepaunt  appears  to  be  a  gentle,  helpless  woman  -- although not too
helpless to beat Judith when she is "lazy."

     Judith wishes only that she could go back home to her mother, she said
that  first  day.  She  stood up to start the long walk uphill to Under the

     "That  would make me happy," she said, "to go home to my mom. Her name
is Islene. Could you take me there, to Petit Gove?"

     In  the  early  1950s,  when  child psychiatrist Jeanne Phillipe was a
baccalaureate  candidate,  she  and  her  classmates would study in a broad
public  square,  watching  the  restavek  children  go  back and forth with
buckets of water on their heads.

     "We  were  young and fresh-thinking, and it just really struck us that
we  were sitting there studying, preparing for a future, and these children
had nothing ahead of them," Phillipe says.

     Fifteen years later, in 1968, Phillipe and a sociologist named Daniela
Devesin  published one of the first studies ever done on restaveks. One out
of  every  six  families in Petionville, an affluent suburb of the capital,
then  had  "a young domestic," the researchers found. The domestics did the
vilest  chores  of  the  home  and  were treated like garbage, Phillipe and
Devesin confirmed.

     No one paid much attention to their findings.

     In  1975,  the  late humorist and raconteur Maurice Sixto recorded the
story  of  Ti  (Little)  Saint Anize, which got quite a different reaction.
Over  the  years,  it has become a classic, constantly requested on Haitian
radio stations.

     Sixto  told  of  a fictional restavek girl who lives in the house of a
professor  greatly  concerned  with  human  rights  -- but oblivious to the
injustice beneath his nose.

      Called  "liar,  thief" by the professor's shrewish wife, Little Saint
Anize  is  charged  with  fussing  after  "Mademoiselle,"  the  professor's
daughter, Chantale.

     "Saint  Anize," says the shrew, "come take Mademoiselle's book bag. Do
I have to tell you every day? You'll make her late for school. Oh, my. This
book  bag  is filthy. Why don't you clean it with your tongue, if you can't
find a rag?"

     It  wasn't  the  first time a Haitian artist had mentioned the abusive
treatment of restaveks. But Sixto's satire hit home, particularly among the
many educated Haitians who had lived, like Sixto, in exile abroad.

     "Those  of us who have been away have realized we can do away with the
custom  and  live  normally,"  says  the  Rev.  Fritz Fontus, pastor of the
8,000-member  First  Baptist  Church of Port-au-Prince. "When my wife and I
came back from the States, we made a decision not to have a child domestic.
We did not want to appear to endorse something we disapproved of -- even if
we knew that we would do it differently." Among the affluent, a taint began
to  attach  itself  to  the long-honored restavek tradition. It was a quiet
revolution, and it would lead to a change.

     Now,  the  more affluent hire maids. For the most part, it is the poor
and  lower-middle  class -- the merchants, the soldiers, even the domestics
-- who keep restaveks in their homes.

     Restaveks are servants even the most meager budget can accommodate.

      It is 6:30 a.m. Judith is holding hands with her neighbor and best
friend,  Marjorie  Martiel,  as  they  descend a steep hill toward a nearby
well. Marjorie lives with her mother, but she feels so sorry for Judith she
often accompanies her on chores.

     Judith  is  lucky  to  have a friend. Most restaveks don't. But in the
neighborhood  Under  the  Fort,  the  social  hierarchy is necessarily less
rigid. The concrete homes lean up against each other like rooms in a house;
the  windows  are cardboard, the doors detached pieces of tin. Few children
are  lucky  enough  to  go  down  the hill to school. Marjorie doesn't; the
difference she sees between her lot and Judith's is that she lives with her
mother, sleeps in a bed and has only one chore: to braid her mother's hair.
Otherwise, they're both the same age -- 12 -- and love to jump rope.

     This  morning,  Judith  swings a large white plastic bucket, which she
will fill with water and carry on her head back up the rocky hill, past the
goats and a tree decorated with colorful panties drying in the breeze. This
is  her  first  bucket  of  the  day.  She has six to go. After the seventh
bucket,  she will bathe her stepcousin, 6-year-old Ricardo, and walk him to
school, washing his feet on arrival.

     By  the  mid-1980s,  even  the  government  of  Jean-Claude "Baby Doc"
Duvalier  couldn't  disregard a tradition that, to the developed world, was
so clearly a thing of the past, of Oliver Twist and Cinderella.

     In 1984, an unlikely two-day event took place at Hotel Castel Haiti in
Port-au-Prince:  "The  Colloquium  on  Childhood in Domesticity," the first
conference  ever  on the subject of restaveks -- co-sponsored by UNICEF and
"Baby  Doc,"  who  also,  at  the time, was sponsoring the murderous Tonton
Macoutes paramilitary brigade.

     On  opening  day, the government host welcomed the crowd with a sample
of the rhetoric that would follow: "These beings in question, have they not
waited too long -- alas! -- for us to fly to their aid?"

     Although  the  elite was rarely pressed to examine its conscience, and
human  rights  were  hardly  a  "Baby  Doc"  regime  priority,  some fairly
incisive, if pompously phrased, social criticism was proffered.

     Eddy Clesca, identified at the conference as a "psychopedagogue": "The
question is this: How could we, a people who led such a tenacious battle to
free  ourselves from slavery in the 18th Century, tolerate, in this day and
age, an injustice as glaring as the "domestication" of children?"

     Conference participants said:

     * Two-thirds of all restaveks live in Port-au-Prince; their ages range
from 4 to 17; and 75 percent are girls -- who are of less economic value to
their  families.  Most  restaveks  are  malnourished; as a result, they are
generally  smaller  than  other children their age. (A study of 15-year-old
restaveks  showed they were 1.5 inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than a
control group of other 15-year-olds.)

     *  Restaveks  get  up  before  anyone else in the family and go to bed
last, working 12-hour days, at the minimum. They usually sleep on the floor
or outside and eat leftovers after the family dines.

     *  Seventy-five to 90 percent of restaveks are illiterate, compared to
62.5 percent of the total population.

     * Most restaveks suffer from depression, fear and constant anxiety.

     "They  can barely look you in the eye. It's like they live in a little
bubble,  in  a  kind of internal prison," Port-au-Prince child psychologist
Jean Robert Chery said in a recent interview.

     *  Three-quarters of a sample restavek population is beaten routinely.
Nearly  all  are verbally abused. And restavek girls are often used for the
sexual initiation of the boys in the house.

     "The  availability of the child domestic of the feminine sex makes her
a  natural outlet for the libido and sexual fantasies of the Haitian male,"
Eddy  Clesca  said  at  the  conference.  "The latter experiences a certain
pleasure  in  abusing  the domestic because of her strong odor, her muffled
screams,  her  resistance, and finally, her submission. It's a rape without

     Clesca  continued:  "The Haitian poet living in Montreal, Jean Richard
Laforest,  in  a  nice  text on domestic rape, admits that, as an adult, he
cannot bring a sexual act to completion without thinking of the little maid
who served as his sexual initiator."

     Following the conference, the Haitian social welfare agency issued the
"Law  For  Little  People  Who  Live  With  Big  People."  The law outlawed
housework for children under 12, required a salary to be paid those over 15
and  ordered  employers to send restaveks to school and to doctors. It also
said every restavek should be registered, and a yearly permit issued, to be
renewed on the basis of a "physical, moral and intellectual examination."

     It  was,  for  the  most  part,  a  nice law, but like many other nice
Haitian  laws,  it  was never enforced. No restavek was registered, no home
checked  for  compliance,  no fine of 1,000 to 3,000 gourdes ($200 to $600)
levied for "moral tortures or corporal chastisement," as specified.

     But this is not unusual in Haiti. There are no institutions to enforce
the  laws;  the justice system is rotten and ineffectual. When psychologist
Chery  comes  across a child who has been raped, there is nothing he can do
but  "dialogue  with  the  rapist,"  he  says.  In  Haiti, even murder goes

     Haiti  was  once  a  land  of  lush  forest,  once  "the  pearl of the
Antilles," once the proud and only black republic in the world.

     Now it is virtually stripped bare, severely deforested and eroded, the
poorest  country in the Western Hemisphere. And it has suffered a turbulent
political   history,   continuing   beyond   the  29-year  Duvalier  family
dictatorship that ended in 1986.

     The  restavek  phenomenon  can  be  seen  only  as  a function of this
history, of the extreme rural poverty and political repression.

     It  all  started  with the French, who were outnumbered by their black
slaves 10 to 1. The French enforced their rule with such brutality that the
slave  revolt  against them was reciprocally vicious and protracted. By the
time the slaves founded the Republic of Haiti in 1804, the plantations were
in  ruins.  Haiti's new rulers tried to revive them, taking a brief turn as
slave masters themselves, then distributing land on a massive scale.

     The  country  was  divided into minuscule land parcels, the population
into  small  landholders.  Economic and political power was concentrated in
the  hands  of  a  tiny  urban  elite. Everyone else eked out a living as a
subsistence farmer.

     This year, the per capita yearly income for Haitians is $400.

     For  the  sake  of simple survival, rural parents have long given away
their  children.  In  some  ways,  this  is  just  an  extension of Haiti's
traditional  extended  family  structure,  in  which  everyone  looks after
everyone else, and the more affluent help the disadvantaged. Blood ties are
often irrelevant.

     "I  remember  after  the  '64 hurricane, when a woman came down to our
neighborhood  with  a boy in her arms and went from house to house, begging
for  a family that would take him," says Minnesota lawyer Jacqueline Regis,
who grew up outside Aux Cayes. "My mother couldn't say no, and we were very
poor ourselves."

     Antoine  became  almost  like  a member of the family, Regis says. "He
helped  around  the house and helped with the farm work. We all did chores.
You  work hard in a rural setting. He was not really treated differently --
except, well, yes, the three of us kids went to school in town, and he went
to a half-day school in the neighborhood."

     Antoine's  mother  was  desperate, but rural parents often wanted more
than  food  for  a hungry child. They wanted their children to escape their
own  fate,  to take a step closer to the modern world. Haitians who live in
the  countryside  are commonly referred to as moun deyo, outsiders in every
sense  of  the  word.  Derogatorily,  they  are neg gwo zotey -- literally,
Haitians with fat toes, toes swollen from never wearing shoes.

     Andre  Val,  20,  says  he  was  eager to pack up and leave Jacmel for
Port-au-Prince  when  his  parents  sent him away to be a restavek. "All my
cousins  from  the  capital were better dressed. For starters, they all had
shoes. Going to Port-au-Prince, for me, was like going to America."

     But the practice of restavek has traditionally betrayed its promise.

     Jacqueline   Regis:  "Haitian  people  have  a  basic  disrespect  for
themselves  that's part of the oppression over the years. So Haitian people
always  feel  they  have to exert themselves over others to affirm who they
are. Restavek is the manifestation of that concept."

     Journalist  Michelle  Montas,  Radio  Haiti  Inter: "Restavek kids are
mistreated  because  kids  are  mistreated,  because  most  parents  have a
repressive  mind-set  shaped  by the political environment they were raised
in. It's the Macoute mentality."

     Within  a  year  of  moving  to  the big city, Andre Val, then 12, was
miserable. After his mistress beat him with a pipe and spit in his face, he
ran  away  to  the streets. He would flatten himself against alley walls at
nights, hiding from the police  sent to retrieve him.

     "When I think about it now," says Val, who now counsels street kids at
Jean   Robert   Chery's  Popular  Education  Center  on  Burial  Street  in
Port-au-Prince, "I want to kill that family."

     Judith  is leading us up the slippery rock toward the hedge of tin and
concrete  shacks,  some  half-built,  that is Under the Fort. It's puzzling
that  she's  willing to let us meet her mistress. Most restaveks we met are
terrified  that  they'll  be  punished  for  talking  to us, for telling us
they're mistreated.

     Her  stepaunt peeks out from behind the blue gauze that hangs over the
doorway  of  their concrete hut. She does not look evil. She looks wizened,
like a weary old woman. She is 42.

     The woman brings out a plastic chair for her guests and grinds it into
the rocky dirt.

     Her  name  is  Frederick  François. She used to work as a maid. Now
she can't  find  a  job. With money from her oldest son, a mechanic, she
barely feeds her seven kids.

     François  says  she needs Judith. She needs help. Judith is just like
a daughter to her, she says. She sleeps on the floor only because there is
no money for a bed. She must work in exchange for room and board. She is
never beaten.  Would  François  be willing to send Judith to school? "If I
get the money, it's my girls who go first."

     Later a neighbor, Marjorie's mother, tells me: "When Judith is hungry,
she doesn't want to work, and her auntie beats her."

     François  is  uncomfortable;  she  doesn't really want to talk. When
we thank  her and turn to go, Francois points to her stomach and holds out
her hand, cupping her palm.

     The  reason  François  agreed  to  speak  to  us  about  something
 many mistresses  are  ashamed  of  is  that she, like her restavek, hopes
to get something in return.

     As the standard of life in the cities has declined, many restaveks are
just leaving rural poverty for urban poverty. Often, they're not any better
off  materially  --  and  they're worse off emotionally, growing up without
love,  growing  up  as  a  member  of  the  subspecies  that  is made up of

     Rosita  Janeu,  for example, a 12-year-old who now works as a restavek
in  Port-au-Prince,  used  to  go  to school when she lived with her mother
outside  Jeremie,  in  the  south. Now she doesn't. In the countryside, she
attended church every Sunday. Now, in the city, she can't.

     "Here  they look at you bad if you don't have shoes, and I'm ashamed,"
she says.

     Do you want to go back home to your family? Rosita is asked.

     She says: "If they wanted me, they would come to get me."

     As the Duvalier family dictatorship started to crumble, Haiti began to
open up, slowly, painfully and chaotically.

     And  just  as  journalists  talked more freely on the radio, political
parties sprouted like weeds, and Haitians learned to assert themselves with
less fear, so, too, did children grow bolder.

     More  and  more  restaveks,  particularly  boys,  understood that they
didn't have to take the abuse. They could run away.

     Every day, every single day, at least one restavek runaway shows up at
Radio Haiti Inter, says journalist Michelle Montas.

     "They  turn  up  not just here but at the other radio stations and the
television  station," Montas says. "There's nowhere else to go. Our society
has no institutions."

     When  they  arrive,  the  kids generally say they're lost. After a few
days, when no one has shown up to claim them, they admit they're restaveks.
In extreme cases, a doctor is needed.

     Recently,  Montas says, one little girl ran away after failing to make
her mistress' bed neatly enough. The mistress had responded by plunging the
girl's hands into boiling corn  mush, leaving her with second-degree burns.

     Sometimes,  Montas  or another radio personality will try to talk some
sense into the master or mistress, "explaining that the child does not have
to  bleed  to  learn  a  lesson."  If  children know how to find their real
parents, the radio station helps them get in touch.

     But  often  the parents can't take them back. One little restavek girl
was  found by a social worker for CHADEL, a human rights organization, with
burns  from  an  iron on her lips and hands. She had been late returning to
her mistress' house with the water. CHADEL tracked down the girl's parents.
The  parents  were  sad, but they had 11 kids at home. They didn't want her

     For  most  restaveks,  running away is hardly a solution. There really
isn't anywhere to run to.

     Some  girls  end  up  at  The  Welcome  Center,  as  the country's one
state-run orphanage is known. The Welcome Center's budget allows for $10 to
be spent on each kid monthly.

     Seventy-five  of  the  100  girls  at  The  Welcome  Center are former
restaveks, director Paula Thybullle says.

     "You can't imagine what problems I have with these girls. They wake up
in the morning crying, but they won't explain what's wrong. They think they
have  to  accept  whatever happens to them. They're willing to suffer. They
think that's their lot."

     Boy  restaveks usually end up on the streets, swelling the small ranks
of a street-kid population that barely existed five years ago. Of the 5,000
to  6,000  street  kids  in  Port-au-Prince,  sleeping under store awnings,
getting  high  on  gasoline fumes and washing windshields at intersections,
many are runaway restavek boys.

     The  runaway restaveks are prime targets for exploitation. Journalists
and  human  rights  advocates  have  recently begun investigating a heavily
guarded bordello staffed by little kids on the outskirts of town.

     Its name is Au Vietnam, In Vietnam.

     Traditions  die hard. Some say the practice of restavek is not limited
to the island, that some Haitians take it with them when they emigrate.

     But  Claude  Charles,  a  Haitian anthropologist living in Miami, says
that's not true.

     "Is  there  domesticity as it exists in Haiti? No, there is not such a
thing.  In Haiti, it is some form of indigenous slavery. Here, they have no
reason to do that. Here in America you have to send a child to school. Here
there are protective services.

     "You  will  find,  suppose,  a young couple where the wife and husband
need to work and maybe they send for a niece, a little cousin in Haiti, and
give  an  opportunity for her to come here. Sure, in exchange for education
and food, the little cousin will give some form of assistance. But it's not
the  same  pattern.  There  is  an  opportunity  for  abuse,  but it is not
documented, that I know of."

     But there is at least one documented case.

     When  Lyonel  Dor was 12, his father died and his father's half-sister
offered to care for the boy. Anita Brutus, who lived in Brooklyn, where she
owned  a  couple  of boarding houses, promised to send the boy to school in
exchange  for  his  help  around the house. It was the traditional restavek
contract and Dor's mother readily agreed.

     In  1972, Brutus smuggled Dor into the United States. She did send him
to  school,  but  she  timed his daily departure and arrival. Dor was never
allowed  out  of  the  house  for any other reason. He did all the cooking,
cleaning  and  laundry.  He  also  worked as a handyman at Brutus' boarding
houses.  Brutus'  "character was like a slave boss," her ex-husband, Pierre
Polynice, would later say in a deposition.

     Brutus  beat  Dor  regularly, for little or no reason -- with a stick,
the  flat edge of a machete or whatever happened to be handy. Once she beat
him severely because he had not timed a meal so that the meat and rice were
ready at the same time. Occasionally, Brutus would strip Dor naked and lash
him with a cowhide whip, even on his genitals. Four years after Dorarrived,
a  second  restavek  arrived,  the  son  of a former Brutus family servant.
Brutus  stripped  and  beat the boys together. The second boy, who was more
streetwise, wasn't willing to put up with it. He pushed Dor to kill Brutus.
As  Brutus  rested  on  her bed after breakfast one morning, Dor struck her
several  times  with  a  pipe,  and the other boy stabbed her to death. The
second boy, who was younger, was remanded to Family Court. Dor was indicted
for murder, and prosecuted as an adult.

     Neighbors  and  Pierre  Polynice  testified  that  Dor  was  verbally,
physically  and sexually abused by his stepaunt. The prosecutor allowed him
to  plead  guilty  to  manslaughter,  and  Dor was sent to a New York state
prison. After 6 1/2 years as a model prisoner, Dor was released from prison
into  the  custody  of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He spent
another six years in an INS detention center on Varick Street in Manhattan,
during  which time he married an American nurse from Massachusetts; he also
earned a dubious record as the INS' longest-held detainee.

     Finally,  early this fall, immigration officials deported Dor to Haiti
on  the  condition that he could return to the States late this year on his
wife's petition.

     In Haiti, Dor met the mother who had sent him away.

     "She  said  she  thought going to Brooklyn would be an opportunity for
me," he said in English.

     Dor  had  never  heard  the word restavek, he said. When told that the
abuse he suffered was a tradition in his native land, Dor shook his head.

     "I  think  it's a shame. I just wish the people would be more educated
and  let  children  be  children. I wish there were ways the children could
escape and go seek help. Is there something I could do?"

     Jacqueline  Regis had long ago stopped asking herself that question. A
successful  lawyer  in the Minnesota attorney general's office, she felt no
one had an interest in the restavek issue and no one ever would.

     Regis  grew  up  in  a  straw  house  on  a tiny farm where her mother
cultivated  rice  and  sugar  cane. She and her mother were the outcasts of
their  more  established  family in "the main house" in downtown Les Cayes.
There  were  always  restavek  children  at  the  main  house,  and,  at  a
particularly  dire  time,  Regis  was  one of them. Her aunt, she says, was
verbally abusive, denigrating the children, calling them lazy no matter how
hard  they  worked, making it clear that they had no rights, and had better
shut up and do as they were told.

     "But  when  I  saw  the  real  horror  stories  is  when  I  moved  to
Port-au-Prince," Regis says. Four restaveks, three girls and one boy, lived
at  the  boarding house where she stayed. Regis was particularly taken with
5-year-old  Christiane,  a  strikingly  beautiful girl who had to scrub her
mistress'  swollen  feet.  Christiane, who slept on the floor in the dining
room  and  cooked  her  own  dinner of hot, dry cornmeal, was beaten with a
broomstick by her mistress and slapped by the mistress' children.

     Nearly  20  years  later,  when  Regis heard that a group of Minnesota
lawyers  was  looking  into  the  issue of restaveks in Haiti, she couldn't
believe  it.  In  the  course of preparing a report on children's rights in
Haiti,  the  Minnesota  Lawyers  International  Human  Rights Committee had
stumbled across the phenomenon.

     With  Regis'  participation,  the  lawyers,  who  had gone to Haiti to
investigate,  issued  a  report  in August, which was then broadcast on the
radio  in  Port-au-Prince  and  circulated  among  Haitian  government  and
international officials.

     The  Minnesota  lawyers  called  for  the  abolition  of restavek. The
government  should undertake an education campaign, denouncing the practice
of  restavek,  the  lawyers  said.  It  should  remove  kids from employing
families  and  return  them  to  their  own homes, or at least move them to
better environments. There should be more state-run orphanages and programs
to address rural poverty and underdevelopment.

     Regis  felt  her Midwestern American lawyer friends had gone a bit too
far; they were naive to think an entrenched custom could be abolished, just
like that.

     "I  thought  it  showed  a total misunderstanding of Haitian culture,"
Regis  says.  "I  don't think it should be abolished. It's a great thing at
its best, and people should be educated to practice it at its best."

     Child psychologist Chery shudders at such talk, which is not uncommon.
He  believes  abolition  is  imperative. But, he says, "the problem here is
that  domesticity is like prostitution. We don't expect lawmakers who avail
themselves  of  bordellos  to  crack  down  on  whores. And we don't expect
lawmakers  who  have  domestics  in  their homes to change their life style

     "This  is  too  much  a  part of our social fabric. It will have to be
pulled apart one thread at a time."

     After  the  Minnesota report came out, Haitian Social Affairs Minister
Brunel  Delonnay  told the National Catholic Reporter he wanted at the very
least  to  eliminate  the  Law  For Little People Who Live With Big People;
under  that  law,  "I  should  sign  a  paper  for  each  child," in effect
legalizing the practice. "I can't accept legalizing restaveks," he said.

     His concrete plan: another conference.

     When  they grow up, some restaveks continue working, for a salary, for
the  same  family.  Others  join  the  swelling  population  of  the  urban
unemployed.  Some girls end up on the Champs de Mars, selling their bodies;
some boys in the National Penitentiary.

     "Zombies,  according  to  voodoo legend, have no more will. They can't
communicate.  They  can  only  obey," says Fritz Fontus, the Port-au-Prince
Baptist  minister. "Our young domestics, once grown, are just like zombies,
mute,  passive,  prepared  for  nothing  but  to join the great mass of our
marginalized society."

     One  young  restavek  boy,  Durand  Marseiles,  who looks about 7, but
doesn't  know his age, is still young enough to believe change is possible.
When he grows up, he wants to be: "someone who sleeps on a bed."

     Judith  sweeps the dirt out of her stepaunt's house and sits at the
edge of a bed covered with a leopard-print sheet.

     She  would  like  to be a dressmaker when she grows up, she says. Or a
jump-rope  champion.  She  would really love to twirl and dance over a jump
rope  in  the  middle  of  a big circle of kids, with everyone clapping and
cheering and no one calling her any bad names.

     Also, it would be nice if she could learn to read. Her mother promised
she  would  go to school someday. Couldn't we please take her to Petit Gove
to see her mother?

     Judith's  stepaunt  interrupts,  wearily.  She  is  tired  of Judith's
delusion, her fantasy of escape.

     "You cannot see your mother. You cannot."

     Judith looks down at her feet.

     "Her mother," says the stepaunt, "is dead."