What is a
Restavek is a Haitian Kreyol word that comes from the French term “rester avec” which means “to stay with”. In Haiti a restavek is a child who is sent or in some cases even sold by his or her parent or guardian to live with and work for a host family. The child is often told to refer to their new master as “aunt” or “grandmother” and to be thankful that this relative is providing them charity. These children will often come from very poor rural communities and be bound in domestic servitude to households that are poor themselves and desire cheap or free labor for the menial daily requirements of life in Haiti.
Restavek children are treated as the lowest of social classes. They are degraded and humiliated seen merely as silent shadows. They are not known by who they are but by what load they can carry. In most cases they work from before the sun rises until after is sets providing manual labor far beyond what their young undernourished bodies can handle. Their work load often includes cleaning the families’ bed pans, carrying water, shopping alone in the market, cooking over hot coals, washing dishes, scrubbing laundry, and looking after the other children in the family.
With improved education and the efforts of Haitian Social Services (IBESR) culture is changing but not fast enough. At this time it is socially acceptable to verbally abuse them, to deprive them of an education, to provide them with little food, water, or shelter, and to beat, whip, burn, and punish them in other physically abusive ways. These children are often continuously sexually abused by their host family and/or, with permission from their host family by family friends. It is not that uncommon for them to be prostituted out to help bring the host family an income.
At age fifteen many restaveks are turned out of their host families’ homes because by law at that age they are entitled to a paid wage for their labor. With no acceptance in the community, no education, and little self-worth, these teenagers often end up on the street with crime and prostitution being a few of their only options to survive.