Haiti’s long-standing problem of child slaves is set to worsen as poverty spreads after the earthquake, experts fear.Before the January 12 earthquake, more than 300,000 Haitian children were living as child slaves, known as ‘restaveks’, the Haitian government estimated.The word, in Creole, means "to stay with," and is a common arrangement where children from poor families, usually girls, are sent to homes in the capital with a promise that they will do some work and be educated. Rarely do they see the inside of a school though. Sometimes the parents send a child away because they can't afford to take care of her. Other times they send her away because there's no school where they live. Sometimes the child is sold for money, other times no money changes hands. "I had to work morning, noon and night, cleaning, cooking, washing,” former restavek, Magalee, 13, told Agence France Presse news agency. “I got up at five o'clock and worked until eight o'clock in the evening. Everybody in the family beat me," she said.
Now, with parents and children more vulnerable than ever, after the earthquake, the number of restaveks is set to soar, says Danielle Romer, head of Haitian Support Inc in Miami. "We were starting to see some improvement before the earthquake, both in terms of getting more of these children into orphanages and missions and in terms of getting some teaching about it out to Haitians," Ms Romer told Time magazine. "But I'm afraid the earthquake just opens the box to a scarier situation." Restavek children usually have to make household meals, fetch water from the local well, clean the house, do laundry and empty bedpans. They usually sleep on the floor and are up at dawn before anyone else to do household work. Sometimes they're physically and sexually abused. "The problem of restavek will get worse because of the earthquake," said Gertrude Sejour, whose Fondation Maurice A Sixto (FMAS) works to reduce the phenomenon. Maybe three or five out of 1,000 are well treated, she said. "If a restavek's family is killed and they survive then they will end up on the street. At the same time, many families have lost everything so more will resort to handing their children over to be restavek," she said. "Vulnerable parents mean vulnerable children. And if families can't even feed their own children, they're not going to feed the restavek."
By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children