living conditions and the living arrangements of these children

Domestic Child Workers in Haiti – Restavek

Who is a restavek?

A restavek denotes a child domestic worker who performs household tasks like carrying water, washing, cleaning and in some cases also performs services for other household members such as petty trade, running errands, etc.

Unlike most children who perform non-domestic work, the children performing domestic work are distinguished by the following three factors:

  1. They usually live away from their parents;
  2. They do not generally follow the normal progression in education; and,
  3. They work more than the other children and often do so without any payment.

What were the living conditions and the living arrangements of these children?

In the 2001 survey, there was an estimate of 19% of the children living away from their parents, which comes up to roughly one out of every five children. This estimate grew to about 26% in the 2014 survey indicating that one out of every four children lived away from their biological parents.

The frequency of such children was found to be more in the urban areas as compared to the rural areas of Haiti. This trend was prevalent in both the surveys and there were no conflicting views for the same.

The chart below shows the living arrangement of these children who lived away from their parents.

The survey has also shown that the maximum domestic child labor has been seen in the population of urban girls.

All this said, is has been pointed out that the living arrangements of these children did not bring about the situation of domestic child labour. There were many children that were separated from their families on account of death of the family members, or the family members moving out. The study has shown that, though some of the children live away from their parents, they cannot be classified as child domestic workers. The percentages however, greatly vary among both rural and urban, boys and girls.

Further, many children perform domestic work for people they have previously known, as opposed to the common belief that they work for complete strangers. The study has shown that a percentage of as high as 58% of the children are domestic workers in the households of their relatives or persons previously known to them.

What was the research study about?

A research study was commissioned in 2013 by UNICEF, ILO, IRC, IOM and the Terre des Hommes Lausanne Foundation, in cooperation with the Haitian state and was carried out with the support of 28 Haitian organisations. It aimed to throw some light on the situation and developments of the domestic child workers in Haiti. It followed up insights from the study conducted by Fafo in 2001.

Based on this research study performed, there were more than 400,000 estimated children who worked as domestic workers in Haiti in 2014 and the original study had estimated that there were about 173,000 in 2001. The increase was mainly reasoned to be on account of an increase in the population density and child population.

The child domestic workers are between the ages of 5 and 17. The proportion of child domestic workers is the lowest for young children. The older children are more likely to do domestic work than the younger children. Also, the girls are more likely to perform the domestic work as compared to the boys in Haiti.

We have highlighted the living arrangements and conditions, education, workload, working conditions and the health of these children in the article below.

What physical and mental health risks did they face?

Many of these children face numerous health hazards at work. Their exposure to illness and injuries is the same as the children performing non domestic work. Around half the children have reported being subject to injuries at work. The two most common injuries found among domestic workers were of cut injuries or burns. Non-domestic workers followed similar patterns but faced a lesser percentage of these injuries as compared to the domestic workers. A few of these children reported other injuries such as broken limbs, eye injuries, infected wounds and head injuries.

On being asked about their mental health, the children showed a tendency where the girls were more troubled than the boys and the older children were more troubled than the younger ones.

living conditions and the living arrangements of restavek children

How did the domestic work affect their education and the enrolment rate? What was their level of education?

The study shows that nearly all children around the age of 12 have been enrolled to a school, either previously or currently hold an enrolment. However, not all of these children end up attending the school. The percentages vary with children of different ages and with different living arrangements.

Of the children who are younger than 12 years, less than 90% have attended school, irrespective of their living arrangements.

The current enrolment statistics show that children living with non-relatives have a lower enrolment rate than the others, irrespective of their age, except in the case of children between the ages of 15 and 17 who have a higher enrolment rate and a better school attendance than that of their peers who are living with their relatives. This could indicate that these children move away for education. However, there are no conclusive evidences available to prove that and it was merely an observation.

Primary School Completion: Children following the educational schedule should complete their primary school education when they are 12 years old. However, only 40% of the children between the ages of 12-17 and only 27% of the children between the ages of 12-14 had completed their primary education. This proved that the probability of completing primary education was higher among children between the ages of 15-17 as compared to children between the ages of 12-14. This could indicate that a large number of the children either started school late or were failing repeatedly.

As far as the statistics are concerned between the 2001 and 2014 study, it had been noticed that the enrolments to schools had increased. 29% of child domestic workers had never attended school in the 2001 survey, whereas that percentage drastically reduced to 7% in the 2014 survey. The largest proportion of children who have neither been previously enrolled nor currently enrolled are found among the child domestic workers.

A lot of the children also face trouble with access to textbooks and other materials and supplies that they need for school.

Educational aspirations are considered as motives behind the children wanting to voluntarily move out in many developing countries. In Haiti, despite the structural disincentives, the parents go a long way to ensure that their children get a formal education. Children that do not attend school are considered lost and as a menace to the society by many. Such a strong stigma for not being in school adds a certain pressure on the parents and gives them a strong incentive to enrol their children to schools.

The children and their parents also saw things differently as time passed. In the 2001 survey, many were of the view that an informal learning of life skills was of utmost importance. In the 2014 survey however, they underlined that a formal education was a prerequisite for success. They did not however negate the resourcefulness of having informal trainings as well, as that was a necessary survival skill. Considering the level of cultural importance given to this, not attending schools further led the children to experience exclusion at both an emotional and social level. They also felt more lonely and unhappy.

What was the workload faced by these children? How were their working conditions?

Nearly all Haitian children took part in household chores, irrespective of whether they lived with their parents or not. For the purpose of understanding the extent of this work, the children have been divided into two parts:

  1. Children below 11 years of age:
  1. One-third of these children do not perform any domestic work.
  2. A very small number of such children live with non-relatives.
  3. Despite this, more than half of them do domestic work for more than 14 hours a week.
  4. A whopping 24% of these children do domestic work for more than 28 hours a week.
  1. Children that are 12 years of age or more:
  1. The extent of domestic work done does not depend on their living arrangements.
  2. Approximately half of the children do domestic work for more than 14 hours a week.
  3. One out of every five such children does domestic work for more than 28 hours a week.

It had been noted that there were no such activities that were exclusively performed by child domestic workers, however many children explained that they took over certain tasks when they moved to a new household and somehow became the only ones to perform it. One such task noted by most children was to empty out contents of the night buckets in the morning. They have also been involved in collecting and transporting water, washing dishes, cleaning and sweeping the compounds, running errands and making fire in the morning.

It had been noticed that the male children were often engaged in outdoor tasks of carrying firewood, agricultural activities and tending animals. The female children generally engaged with household activities of preparing meals, washing dishes and cleaning and sweeping.

Further, these children generally had a 7 day work week with no holidays. About 80% of the children worked on all days of the week. It was also noticed that their workload on Saturdays was generally more than that on the other week days. They also worked during odd hours when others were generally asleep. About 15% of the children worked after 8PM and before 6AM in the morning. 27% of the child domestic workers work at night time, which is two times more than the non domestic child workers. In some cases this has an affect the child’s attendance in school. Many students have dropped homework, been absent from classes or been late to class due to excess work at home. Most children are also unable to pay attention and follow their classes on account of being too tired.

To add to their misery, these children work endless hours and compromise on their education and health and as little as 4% of these children are ultimately paid to perform these tasks on a daily basis.

Did they get any privileges? What were their restrictions and how were they treated?

The children reported not having access to even the internet. However, roughly one third of them had access to the radio, TV and a telephone. They were also less likely to attend church with the rest of the family members. They were also generally allowed to leave the house on their own for both duties and personal purposes. There were many girls who reported not being allowed to leave the house for personal reasons.

The children faced verbal reprimand almost all the time where the members of the household expressed their dissatisfaction about the quality of work performed and other things. These children were also insulted at work quite often. While these are unacceptable circumstances, it was worse to know that 81% of the parents accepted that the members of the new household even whipped their children.

These punishments could easily reproduce the feelings of being an outsider in these kids. The children often referred to issues of being beaten and punished at the household when talking about the difficult circumstances which they faced. They also refer to being scolded or given tasks they did not want to perform or found disgusting. This feeling of being separate or being an outsider was also highlighted when it came to easting meals and how these children were served their food. Some children were not allowed to eat at the same table as the other family members or had to eat after the other residents had finished their meals.


The study has show that the prevalence of child domestic labour had increased from 2001. The children are still treated unfairly and continue to live in such grave circumstances. They have compromised on their living and education and do not even get paid for performing domestic work. They are also subject to many illnesses and injuries in the course of their work.

Written by: Varsha Gupta for Ayiti Now Corp