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9185: Re: 9181: Restavek is slavery; St. Vil responds to Simidor

From: Jean Saint-Vil <jafrikayiti@hotmail.com>

On the issue of equating «restavčk» with «slavery», Simidor wrote:

«the fact the restavek children are kept in bondage against their will, 
well, that's slavery.»

I would really like to see some hard data on the number of children in Haiti 
that can be said to be held in bondage against their will.

Obviously, as the article itself suggests and as all Haitians would admit, 
not all children who left their natural parents to move in with strangers or 
relatives in the big city are exploited, abused, not sent to school etc...

When the stats are collected do our NGO friends substract these children who 
are well treated from the total number of restavčks? - if not, what is the 
total number of restaveks living in Haiti? what percentage of all these 
children do suffer child abuse. How does this numer compare with occurance 
of such abuses in the population of children who live with their natural 
parents? How do these numbers compare with that of other countries, in the 
caribbean, on the continent, in the world?

Among the restavčk children that are abused, how many actual cases are there 
where children have been found to be kept in bondage? and how exactly are 
these children «kept» in bondage?  How do these numbers compare with that of 
other countries, in the caribbean, on the continent, in the world?

While we wait for these facts, let me say that I have lived in Haiti for a 
great portion of my life and I have seen the reality under which my people 
live day in and day out. Of all the restavčks that I have known, there is 
not one case where I can say that I saw a child kept in physical bondage. I 
know of a few instances where one could argue that the child would find it 
hard to make the decision to return home to his/her parents - because of 
fear of getting lost in the big city, fear that the parents may force 
him/her to return to the «house of horrors» - it is not evident that adults 
will automatically believe the child's side of the story (maybe he is home 
sick and making things up etc...); shame that his/her dream of making a 
better life for himself and the family have failed; lack of better 
options....etc... In these instances, can we say it is the abusers that are 
keeping the child in bondage - through socio-economic pressure and/or 
psychological manipulation?  or is it the very conditions of extreme poverty 
that surrounds the child which offers him/her bad options only.

Having said that, I don't claim that there are absolutely no instances of 
actual «slavery» occuring in Haiti. i.e. where someone is forced to work and 
is kept in bondage. Neither can I make any such claim for Canada, the U.S.A. 
or anywhere else. What I am saying is this: 1) the restavčk situation is 
very particular and it deserves to be treated as a phenomenon on its own 
merit - based on hard data 2) Child abuse and child exploitation are often 
part of the restavčk situation - they should be addressed on their own merit 
- based on hard data 3)the issue of slavery also should be addressed on its 
own merit - based on hard data.

As individuals like Presidents Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Thabo M'Beki,  
every now and then, muster the courage to point out: abject poverty is at 
the root of many of our (Black People) ills. Of course, whenever they make 
such statements, a barrage of «friends of Africa», «friends of Haiti».... 
jump all over them. But, are we to silently accept being condemned to 
eternally have to deal with the symptoms of our problems rather than with 
their real causes?

The World Community must adress the issue of slavery with hard data at hand. 
They actual world leaders had an opportunity to do so last month - most of 
the powerful ones ran away from the issue. Now, i find it hardly appropriate 
to take seriously the so-called criticisms of such cowards.

But, I do agree that Haitians must adress the issue of restavčk and all that 
is associated with it ...with hard data at hand. And, contrarily to Simidor, 
I believe this is one of many areas where Haitians DO NOT need the help of 
any foreign friends to accomplish this. And, in some particular aspect of 
this matter, not only such help is not needed, it may even prove to be 
detrimental (even when this help comes from our very few real friends). Like 
Malcom said: there are certain things we MUST absolutely do for ourselves, 
by ourselves.

Thankfully, there are some positive steps that have been taken in last few 
years. As far as my own two eyes have shown me, corporal punishment is no 
longer practiced in schools. Recently, I have not recorded a single instance 
where a child received a spanking. There are specific initiatives taken by 
the current government to banish corporal punishment (I believe a law has 
just been promulgated to this effect).  When, I am in Haiti I hear the issue 
being discussed on radio shows. In such instances people exchange their real 
experiences  - not the hypocritical texts of the United Nations Charter of 
Rights nor the those of the Haitian Constitution - according to which every 
child would have enough to eat and a school to go to ...thus not having to 
leave his village, his city, his country....

What needs to be done in complement to continued efforts to sensitize the 
population on the issue of child abuse and exploitation, are initiative that 
attack the root causes discussed earlier.

The government should also publish some hard data on this matter and resist 
falling prey to the overly simplistic campaigns of crusaders who jump from 
cause to cause - hoping over the bones of starved human beings to defend 
endangered birds in Africa - onward they spring to break the invisible 
chains of «slaves» in Haiti - all the while making sure that we, 
chicken-sacrificing hords that we are, don't cross the ocean en masse 
bringing our barbaric practices to the mainland.

Remember Ms. Hoag warning to the audience of BUSINESSWEEK.COM:

«99% of the people consider it normal. So normal, in fact, that Haitian 
emigrants have taken the tradition with them »

No data is needed to back any of this up... It all prints as effortlessly as 
«smelly, dust-ridden suburb...pig-infested slum...of/near/in the heart of... 
Port-au-Prince», «violent, corrupt African dictator, despot...strongman...», 
«fraudulent Haitian elections»...

«The Caribs were WAR-LIKE savages (Saint Columbus 1V1)»

----Original Message Follows----
From: Bob Corbett <corbetre@webster.edu>
To: Haiti mailing list <haiti@lists.webster.edu>
Subject: 9181:  Restavek is slavery; Simidor responds to St. Vil (fwd)
Date: Wed, 3 Oct 2001 14:04:43 -0500 (CDT)

From: karioka9@cs.com

St. Vil denies that the Haitian restavek children are slaves, because their 
parents did not "sell" them into that condition.  The argument that slaves 
are a commodity tied to the auction bloc may be true for chattel slavery, 
but historically people who were captured in village raids or who were born 
into that condition were not necessarily bought or sold.  On the other hand, 
the fact that neither the children nor their relatives receive any kind of 
wage for child labor, the fact the restavek children are kept in bondage 
against their will, well, that's slavery.

Some facts are difficult to accept -- witness the general reaction in the 
U.S. against Bill Maher's comment about the cowardliness of waging war by 
remote control.  But truths are truths no matter who speak them.  The 
practice of domestic slavery against destitute children is real in Haiti.  
It is widespread.  It is entrenched.  And it must be stopped.  Yes, it is 
ironic that the children of Spartacus should be enslaved in their own 
country as in the Dominican Republic.  Yes, some of the people who throw 
that criticism in our face do not necessarily mean well for Haiti.  But 
Haitians' hostility to that criticism is proof that, left to their fate, the 
restavek children will remain slaves for another 200 years.  Indeed, why 
should Haitians abandon such a useful tradition, when the victims of that 
tradition are so helpless against it?

If there is a single issue for which Haiti deserves international 
condemnation, this is it.  Those who mean well should embrace that criticism 
instead of wrapping themselves, as St. Vil does, in the wounded flag of 
so-called national dignity.  In fact, the lack of stronger international 
condemnation is the extent to which the "international community" doesn't 
really give a damn about the children of the poor.  So why invite outside 
criticism to begin with?  Because it is human nature for Haitians to sit on 
their hands, until the restavek tradition becomes so thoroughly exposed that 
we are shamed/compelled to do something about it.

I know that Aristide in his heart is against the restavek tradition.  I 
commend him for that.  But Aristide the politician will not challenge that 
tradition in any significant way, unless there is a strong movement pushing 
him in that direction.  It's up to the true Haitian patriots and to the 
friends of Haiti to pick up the criticism against restavek slavery and to 
use it as a catalyst for change.  What a fitting present it would be for the 
barefoot soldiers of Haiti's war of independence, on the eve of the 
bicentennial of that independence in 2004, if we were to free their 
great-great-grand-children from the opprobrium of domestic slavery!

Daniel Simidor

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