UMCOR

United Methodist Committee on Relief

Ending Child Servitude in Haiti

Haitian twins Natalie and Natasha Floreal have been reunited with their widowed mother through an UMCOR-supported program. They had lived apart from her, working in slave-like servitude, but now enjoy UMCOR-supported schooling.  PHOTO CREDIT: Beyond BordersHaitian twins Natalie and Natasha Floreal have been reunited with their widowed mother through an UMCOR-supported program. They had lived apart from her, working in slave-like servitude, but now enjoy UMCOR-supported schooling. Photo: Beyond Borders

UMCOR and partner Beyond Borders address root causes of a persistent problem

By David Tereshchuk*

February 12, 2015—Following the catastrophic earthquake of 2010 and intense efforts to address widespread needs in Haiti since then, one persistent need may not seem so obvious: tackling the distinctive Haitian problem known in Creole as restavèk—in effect, child slavery.

The name derives from the French reste avec (“to stay with”) and refers to the practice of sending children to grow up away from home in the care of others. It’s a practice embedded in Haitian culture—as many as one in five Haitian children may live apart from their parents.

Restavèk has its origins in deep rural poverty, notes Thodleen Dessources, program manager for Haiti for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), herself a Haitian national.  

“It has long been a traditional practice for modest or poor families to send children to stay with better-off relatives in a city,” Dessources says. “They see it as a chance for education and opportunities for the child—ideally, an entry into a better life and a better future.”

Enslavement

But over time, the practice has been corrupted. Today, profit-driven individuals prey on poor rural families, often placing children in urban situations that amount to enslavement. “It is a complete affront to the rights of children,” says Dessources.

UMCOR is responding to this situation in partnership with Beyond Borders, a group dedicated since the 1990s to ending child-exploitation. A vital part of Beyond Borders’ work is its Model Community Initiative in Haiti’s southeast.

The initiative raises awareness among parents about the dangers that accompany restavèk; offers education locally for children; and seeks to improve families’ livelihoods. “It addresses the root causes of forced migration, so there is less incentive for families to send their children away,” Dessources says.

David Diggs, director of Beyond Borders, reports some remarkable success. “Communities have become so mobilized that about a quarter of the children already lost to this practice have been found by their parents, freed, and brought back home, where they are integrated into local schools and provided other support by Child Protection Brigades trained by Beyond Borders.”

Social Movement

UMCOR is helping bolster local access to primary education and improving quality—especially for children most at risk. “UMCOR’s targeted investments in education and sustainable livelihoods combat the desperation that leads many Haitian parents to send their children away,” Diggs says.

The entire effort is part of a broad social movement in Haiti, including the approval last year of an anti-trafficking law. According to Diggs, “Much work remains, and resources are still needed for this movement to continue to grow. But with partners like UMCOR engaged in the struggle,” he says, “I have great hope.” 

#BeUMCOR

This year UMCOR celebrates 75 years of being with those in need. Your gift to Haiti Response, Advance #418325, supports UMCOR’s work and partnerships in Haiti.


*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to www.umcor.org.

Related News

A top cement producer in Haiti offers gainful employment to five community members in Haut Damier, Haiti.
‘Cementing’ Livelihoods in Haiti
A top cement producer in Haiti offers gainful employment to five community members in Haut Damier, Haiti.
UMCOR program participants sign in for International Women’s Day celebration. PHOTO CREDIT: UMCOR Haiti
‘Inspiring Change’ in Haiti
The global theme of International Women’s Day was celebrated in Port-au-Prince and translated into Creyole as “We are the Change!”
Thodleen Dessources, UMCOR program manager for Haiti, explains the significance of the HAPI centerpieces to “Haiti Night” attendees.
A Felt Presence
HAPI centerpieces symbolize Global Ministries and Eglise Méthodiste d'Haïti partnership.
UMCOR and USAID partner to provide an integrated suite of services for two communities in Haut Damier, Haiti.
A New Partnership is Forged in Haiti
UMCOR and USAID partner to provide an integrated suite of services for two communities in Haut Damier, Haiti.
US volunteers and Haitian workers help to finish restoration efforts at the Methodist Children’s Home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
A New Way to Volunteer in Haiti
The collaborative Haiti Response Plan closes, but gives leadership and ownership over to the Methodist Church of Haiti.
Your gift to Haiti Response, Advance #418325, supports UMCOR’s work and partnerships in Haiti.
InterAction
CW