I had the opportunity to share my Jamal experience (see previous post) with one of the founders of Healing Haiti, Jeff Gacek. He opened my eyes to the brutal cultural practice of Restavek placement. Once a child is placed as a Restavek, they are deemed less valuable. In fact, the term Restavek in itself is derogatory.
How can this exist? Haitian women are often stuck in a predicament. They are so desperately poor they cannot afford to feed or educate their children. In hopes of a better future for her child, the mother chooses to give her child to a slightly less poor family. She assumes that her child will be fed and given an education. The mother traditionally looses all contact with the child.
In reality, this child is expected to "earn their keep" by doing the majority of the household chores, which are labor intensive. The Restavek works from sun up to sun down fetching water, cleaning and caring for the other children in the household. The Restavek is given no time for play. 2/3 of the Restaveks are girls between the ages of 5-16. They are often refused an education. They are not allowed to speak unless spoken to. They eat inferior food and sleep on a mat on the floor instead of a mattress. Tragically, they are often physically, emotionally and sexually abused.
Haitian law states that once a child reaches the age of 16, legally they have to be paid for their labor. Restaveks are then kicked out of the household and have to fend for themselves on the streets. Uneducated and abused, former Restaveks turn to prostitution and gangs to find a means to survive.