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9185: Re: 9181: Restavek is slavery; St. Vil responds to Simidor
From: Jean Saint-Vil <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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,
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 <email@example.com>
To: Haiti mailing list <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: 9181: Restavek is slavery; Simidor responds to St. Vil (fwd)
Date: Wed, 3 Oct 2001 14:04:43 -0500 (CDT)
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!
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