Child Labour in Haiti – What is the Government doing about it?

Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour (MAST)

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour (MAST) holds the responsibility of defining and executing the government’s social policy in Haiti while ensuring the safety of workers in both formal and informal sectors and by granting specific protection to the family, women and children. They play an important role in fighting against child domestic labour. They have a budget of around 3% of the state budget and invest around 75% of the amount in social programs. Their representatives uphold the rights of the people and stress over the intolerance towards the practice of slavery, slavery like practices of debt bondage, exploitation of children or descent based slavery, human trafficking and forced labour.

The ministry focuses on the establishment of social welfare programmes and government policies for conducting campaigns, training people and taking remedial measures. The policies include fights against poverty, programmes to reduce social injustice and mitigating the vulnerabilities of poor people in the population. MAST collaborates with the Ministry of State for Human Rights and the Fights against Extreme Poverty who also support the cause of preventing child labour.

The Directorate has appointed inspectors to make inspection visits to the workplaces to ensure the workers safety. However, their scope is limited to employees and does not extend to the households. For ensuring the application of legal provisions to the living and working conditions of women and children, the Directorate has constituted a Woman and Child Labour department. The department is responsible training officials and raising awareness on child labour and on trafficking.

Laws and Enactments

A draft law was proposed on human trafficking. The bill would make child trafficking a criminal offence and would strengthen the ability of the prosecution of traffickers by the Haitian Authorities.

Article 335 of the Haitian Labour code prohibits the employment of minors under the age of 15 and the mistreatment and abuse of children and their placement into the restavek service. It also prohibits the abuse, exploitation and violence towards children. Further, any work that could harm the safety, health or morals of a child is not allowed to be performed by children. It also requires the host families to treat the host child in the same way they would treat their biological child. The law however, does not provide any criminal sanctions and contains a huge loophole for cases where the biological children of the family also suffer abuse. The law prohibits offences towards children but does not contain any provisions to penalize the same.

President Michel Martelly, elected in 2011, introduced a development programme focusing on following five priorities:

  1. Employment
  2. Education
  3. Rule of Law
  4. Energy
  5. Environment

To fulfil the priority of education, a programme for Universal Free and Obligatory education was launched aiming to subsidise primary school for children. However, this programme faced numerous allegations for fraud and questionable standards and as such faced many problems.

Programs, Policies and Institutions

Formal experts identified many government and non-government organisations working to battle against child labour. They worked directly with non-government organisations that were involved with the issue including

Foyer d’amour,

Fondation Maurice Sixto,

Foyer L’Escale,

Fondasyon Limyè Lavi,

Coordination des organisations Bolosse-Martissant,

Ligue des Frères Boursiquot pour les enfants,


Fondation Zanmi Timoun, and


Some formal experts also work with international organizations such as International Organization for Migration (IOM), The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and The United Nations Stabilization Mission In Haiti (UNSTAMIH).

These organizations have taken up a large range of interventions in multiple parts of Haiti, including campaigns for sensitization with parents and tutors, campaigns for raising awareness of child rights in schools and churches, rescue and rehabilitation of children from the position of restaveks, monitoring of orphanages, provision of vocational training and urging for legal reforms.

These experts identified certain gaps in the programs and policies. They found that efforts were being made to identify the problems, however no actions were being taken to solve them. They felt that the laws existed only on paper and nothing concrete was being done to implement them. The laws lacked any coercion to actually regulate the situation. They were of a view that accountability policies must be introduced in order to hold people responsible and take measures against the culprits of the phenomenon. The state must be more actively involved and constantly update policies based on the situation. They should engage children in schools in the fight against child labour.

As far as urban child labour is considered, children below the age of 15 are prohibited from being employed and children between the age of 15 and 18 are required to obtain work authorization from the Ministry of Labour to be employed. Night work, industrial jobs or any other work that can harm the health, safety or morals of the children are considered to be out of the scope for children. However, the root cause for urban child labour revolves around the poverty and economic conditions prevalent in Haiti. The children get into work because of conditions that necessitated them into it, as explained in a prior post . As such, the policies to prevent such child labour could only be effective temporarily. Further, the government does not have the capacity to conduct extensive campaigns in this front. The government may however, take measures to increase the duration of a school day and reduce the unemployment of adults to help control the need for any child to work. This would in turn combat the child labour as many children work only to support their families.

Programs and their Outcomes

There were a number of training programs conducted for training and capacity development for trafficking, violence and human rights and their outcomes are discussed below

The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Program constituted a training program. It provided training to over 30 officers from the Brigade for the Protection of Minors in anti-trafficking and child protection. Over 70 communities and 30 government officials were trained in trafficking prevention and monitoring. Similar trainings were also conducted for women’s assistance, human rights and legal assistance and victim assistance.

The trends also showed that there was a steep increase in the number of domestic human rights non-government organizations receiving the support of the US government. There was also a notable increase in the number of people trained.

The increased support has been shown in the graph below:

human rights non-government organizations receiving the support

To provide a summary of the impact of all these programs-

  • 2147 victims of trafficking were assisted.
  • 1541 victims of human rights were assisted.
  • 1509 people received trainings on trafficking in person issues.
  • 1515 people and 351 government officials were trained on victims of violence and what happens to them.
  • 132 organizations were supported for the implementation of new practices and strategies for victim assistance in cases of human rights violations.
  • 98 organizations were empowered to monitor the human rights.
  • 10 public awareness campaigns were implemented for trafficking in persons.
  • 7 shelters were established to house the victims.
  • 48 human right organizations were assessed before the 2010 earthquake and 10 networks including 192 organizations were supported by the projects.
  • 34 service contracts were issued to support victim services.
  • 13 curriculums were created to incorporate focus on human rights issues.
  • 20 public advocacy campaigns were implemented.

In conclusion, we understand that the government has executed several campaigns that have had tremendous impacts and has formulated a number of laws for the protection of children and prevention of child labour. However, these laws do not operate effectively. There are loopholes in the laws and policies and they aren’t comprehensive enough to include any clauses on punishments. Their policies are based on detection rather than on providing solutions. The government needs to enact laws that explicitly criminalize trafficking, undertake capacity building, launch campaigns to reach all the people in Haiti, educate parents and children about the effects of trafficking and equip and empower communities by providing training to community leaders and further encourage them to spread the word. They should also focus on corruption within law enforcement and ensure that the accused are taken to trial in a timely manner. Further, to moderate the practices, annual reports on steps taken by the government to combat modern slavery and criminal justice data should be published.

Written by – Varsha Gupta for Ayiti Now Corp

Source documents

  1. Report-Haiti-Child-Domestic-Workers-31072015.pdf
  2. 2013-Global-Slavery-Index-En.pdf
  3. Child-Labor-In-Domestic-Service-Restaveks-PAP-Haiti-2012.pdf
  4. Urban-Child-Labor-PAP-Haiti-2012.pdf