On Saturday, October 2nd, I attended a film screening and lecture at
NYU’s Kimmel Center on the forced labor of children. The program was a
part of “Freedom Week” a series of activities organized in NYC in order
to bring attention to human trafficking. This topic is outside of the
scope of my thesis project, but I decided that it would be good to
participate in order to learn more about the other facets of modern day
Jean-Robert Cadet, a former child slave from Haiti was the featured
speaker. Cadet grew up in Haiti as a restavec. Restavecs are
impoverished Haitian children who are sent by their parents to live
with another family in an effort to facilitate an education for the
child. In theory the children leave their homes in order to remove
themselves from the poverty cycle through an education. In practice the
children are treated like slaves. Few gain access to the opportunity
for an education that they are promised. Many of the families that
keep restavecs are only marginally better off than the children’s own
families. The primary job of most restavecs is to fetch water for their
host families. Even in 2010, many Haitian homes do not have full time
access to running water.
According to Cadet, the most difficult part of growing up as a restavec
is not the labor, but the isolation. He could not speak until spoken
to; he could not eat with the host family and was generally forced to
stay out of sight. In the 1970’s Cadet and his host family moved to
New York State. When the “parents” realized that Cadet would have to
attend school with their children they abandoned him. Fortunately a
teacher at the local high school helped him to find an apartment and
employment. Cadet completed three years of military service and is now
a husband and father. He currently resides in Ohio.
In 1998 Cadet wrote a book about his experiences as a restavec and his
path to freedom. Cadet travels to Haiti regularly in order to help the
children who are still living under this form of contemporary slavery.
It has been suggested that up to 10% of Haiti’s children are restavecs.
For more information on restavecs check out this Time Magazine article http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,999363-1,00.html
and Restavec by Jean-Robert Cadet’s.