Domestic Child Workers in Haiti

Experiences of Domestic Child Workers in Haiti aka Restavek

Pursuing education, First-hand account

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 the developments of the domestic child workers in Haiti. It followed up insights from the study conducted by Fafo in 2001.

In the course of this research, many of the interviewees shared their personal experiences and we have compiled their stories in this post to understand the difficulties they face daily, based on their first-hand account.

Maria - Carrefour Feuilles near Port au Prince

Maria is from Carrefour Feuilles near Port au Prince and has lived with her aunt since the earthquake of 2010. She was just 10 years old at the time of the earthquake. She used to live in Cap Haitian with her older cousin since the death of her mother. She had also done 2 years of schooling before she moved.

Her aunt wanted to move back to the rural areas but Maria knew her life would drastically change there. She would not be able to go to a school and get an education if she moved to the rural areas. She also mentions that the quality of water outside Port au Prince is really bad and poses health risks and causes spots on her skin. She somehow manages to find some money to get a bus ride to school and hopes that a local NGO will help her continue to go to school.

Joseph - Jacmel

Joseph is a 17 year old from Jacmel who comes from Belle Anse, a town which often suffers from food insecurities. His father died when he was young and his mother moved to the Dominican Republic in 2010. He had four siblings. His half sister lives with her father in Cayes Jacmel. Another sibling lives with an aunt in Port au Prince and the other two with his mother in the Dominican Republic.

Joseph has been paying his own school fees with some help from his mother who sends him some money from time to time. He is however really delayed in his education and having a hard time. When he left from Belle Anse, he had completed only his first year of school. After moving, in the next four years, he managed to complete two more years of schooling. At the age of 16, he was in the third year of primary school that was meant for 8 to 9 year olds and has not yet gone back to school this year. He must also arrange for expenses for his schooling that would cost him around 5000 Gourdes.

Gregory - Jacmel.

Gregory is another young man from Jacmel. He is 20 years old and has been more successful in managing to stay in school due to his work input and personal connections. He has not lived with his mother since the age of just two months and his father died when he was young. He has lived in five separate households since then, but now rents his own room and has also bought a motor cycle from his savings with the help of some relatives abroad.

He has always used his income and personal networks to pay for his school fees and expenses. He says that through all these years he has missed out on only two years of schooling:

  • In 2007 – 2008, when he did not pass his exams, and
  • In 2012 – 2013, when one of his relatives who used to help him went abroad.

In 2013, he could not pass his final year exams as the government ended up not recognising his school and to which he had paid all his hard earned money. He will now sit for his final year exams and complete the basic cycle.

His relative success as compared to Joseph is a result of assistance. His networking materialized and he also received economic support.

Nathalie - Port au Prince

Nathalie is from Port au Prince and attends a day centre for children who live under difficult circumstances. She lives in a household with three other children. She is suffering in the house of her God sister. Nathalie sweeps the floors and washes up, but gets nothing for it. The God sister gives clothes to her own children but not to her despite the fact that she sells second hand clothing. Like most child domestic workers, she expresses that her caretakers do not worry about her well being or even her material survival.

Joane - Port au Prince

Joane is a 14 year old whose mother lives in a rural area. She started her schooling on time as she was in the third year of primary school at the age of 8. However, before moving to Port au Prince, she dropped out of school. She says that she would like to go to school, but in case she doesn’t she will sell things in the market when she is older.

At her current home, she does a lot of work but is not treated well and also paid nothing. Joane does all the washing, cleaning and cooking. She is allowed to play with the other children only when there is no work. It brings her to tears when she watches them go to school because she cannot.

She is treated badly and beaten a lot at the house where she stays. She says that the caretaker beats her because she isn’t her own child. The family eats well but doesn’t give her proper meals. She is not given any food even when she’s hungry. On asking for even 5 Gourdes, she is told that there isn’t any money. She eats from the leftovers she finds at the time of washing up the dishes. She also sleeps with a sheet on the floor while all the others have a bed.

Joel - IDP Camp in Port au Prince

Joel lives in a small house with his aunt and her family in a refugee camp in Port au Prince. He is 10 years old and attends school and is in the fifth year of primary school. Unlike most other children, Joel is on track with his education. He has been living with his aunt for 3 years and according to her the threat that Joel faced was that his father never took any responsibility for him and his mother was not working. They found it difficult to take care of his workload as they had two children already, but his situation was a regular case of informal foster care.

Marjorie, Immacula, Lisa - Phillipeau

Marjorie lives in Phillipeau on steep hills above Port au Prince. She has four adult children, three boys and a 26 years old daughter, Immacula, who live with her. Her 18 year old niece Lisa, from Jeremie, moved in with her three years ago. Marjorie works as a maid and as such is away most days and many nights also. A heavy load of the household work falls on the Lisa, Immacula and the three sons.

Lisa’s father died 3 months ago. Her mother is alive, but has 10 children, out of whom 2 have died. She is in the tenth grade implying that she is two years behind in her education. After her school, she returns home and has to do the housework for several hours and turn to homework when the household work is done.

Immacula, on the other hand is nine years behind in her schooling. When she was younger, her mother sent her and her 3 brothers to live with Lisa’s family in Jeremie. She worked hard that time and Marjorie was able to earn and buy a plot of land and construct the house in which they now live. It is also because of this that Marjorie can afford to pay for the kids schooling. However, back in the day, when Immacula lived at Lisa’s, she went to poorer schools. A relative of Lisa’s father also held her back and made her repeat a class. She also complained about being the only one in the house to do the laundry.

These examples can be considered as child domestic services, but things are different for them now. They look back at those times and laugh about it.

The story of Lisa and Immacula draws resemblances to those of Joseph and Gregory mentioned earlier. They slipped in and out of education and work in a similar manner.

Claude - Marigot

Claude is a farmer from Marigot which is a community at an altitude of more than 1800 meters above sea level. He is 60 years old. He explained about how the area used to be moist and rocky with agricultural fields stretching across in all directions. This year however, was different. They were facing a drought and an increased sun exposure which was only making things worse. Claude was active in initiatives for youth and also started a community school in the area. He was a respected man and described as the person everyone would turn to for help.

Claude expressed how this year had been hard for parents and the children as they couldn’t manage to make any money from their harvest and as such were not able to pay for school. He was afraid of the conditions brought about by the draught and feared that all the investments made by the people would be lost and that they may not even have any food to eat.

Several woman residents from around also added that many children from the town had lost a parent due to the drought and they had to send their children away to the cities. The children would move to a new home and even become a restavek. Despite the conditions of a restavek being bad, the conditions of the children who remained in Marigot was worse. The children who moved to Port au Prince found themselves sleeping under the empty tables at the marketplace and had no access t0 basic resources and also saw a lot of other children who were having a better time which only made it worse. However, in Marigot, the drought only seemed to be getting worse and they had come to a position where they had to eat raw snails and lizards to stop the feeling of hunger.

Some people have it worse than the other, but they are all facing difficulties. Parents often emphasised the positive factors of a new home for their children. They would get informal training and learn about the city habits and ways of the world. They also avoided idleness. Despite the noted benefits to be considered, the children were put into difficult situations and in many cases were also deprived from getting any schooling.

From the experiences shared, we can conclude that the parents sent their children to new homes because of difficult situations that arose. They expected the new caretakers to help out with the education and upbringing of the child and to provide them with food and shelter. However, things didn’t necessarily happen that way.

Written by: Varsha Gupta for Ayiti Now Corp

Source: Report-Haiti-Child-Domestic-Workers-31072015.pdf