Slavery…along with other institutions that oppress negroes…is still alive and well. Unfortunately, Haitian immigrants have brought the practice of holding “Restaveks”. “The children work in exchange for food, shelter and the promise of school, but often end up victims of physical and sexual abuse, according to the U.S. State Department’s annual report on human trafficking.” This practice is coming to light.
(CBS4) MIAMI Imagine sleeping on a rolled-up mattress on the dinning room floor and having to bathe in the backyard with a garden hose. Try to envision washing dishes, making beds and cooking for a family who beat you and hid you in a closet when visitors arrived.
For six long years, Simone Celestin lived through this horrific ordeal, all the while never attending school. Her story sounds like a slave narrative from another century, but federal prosecutors say it happened in South Florida. They say Celestin is one of an unknown number of children and teens called “restaveks,” who are hidden as slaves within the Haitian immigrant community.
“Restavek” is a Haitian Creole word meaning “one who stays with.” The term applies to an estimated 300,000 poor children in Haiti, mostly girls, who are given or sold by their parents to wealthier families, or taken from orphanages.
Haitian-American advocates recall about 30 instances that have come to light since 1999, when a 12-year-old came forward with an appalling story about being a Broward County couple’s household servant and a sex slave for their son.
But authorities believe those examples are probably just a small fraction of the actual number, because so few cases are reported.
“Haitians don’t see those kids as slaves,” said Jean-Robert Cadet, a former restavek who published a memoir tracing his journey from Haiti’s poverty to the American middle class.
Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, said some Haitians view the practice as an informal foster care system.
“They may feel they were helping the little child by bringing the child here and express bewilderment that they are being prosecuted for ‘doing the right thing,”‘ Bastien said.
Cadet remembers the shame he felt as a teenager when a high school teacher discovered he was homeless and asked why. Cadet spent his childhood in Haiti as a restavek for a prostitute and her son, then continued working for them after the family emigrated to New York. They kicked him out when school interfered with his chores.
“For me to tell that teacher I was a restavek was like telling him I was a dog. In Haiti, a restavek and a dog share the same social status. For me to tell this man that, I am not really a human being,” said Cadet said, who is now a college professor and an advocate for restaveks.
Danielle Romer, president of Haitian Support Inc. in Homestead, recalled one 15-year-old girl whose experience showed why restaveks don’t reach for help: “She was working a.m. to p.m., not going to school, but where she sleeps is better than what she had in Haiti.”
Dwa Fanm, a Brooklyn-based women’s rights organization, decided in 2004 not to renew a federal grant for services directed at Haitian restaveks because the 20 women who came forward did not want to register as human trafficking victims. Registration would have allowed them to apply for asylum or specific visas to stay in the U.S.
“As soon as we said, ‘You have to report it, we have to report it so you can be certified,’ they said, ‘Never mind, I’ve changed my mind,”‘ said Farah Tanis, the group’s executive director. “They didn’t want to prosecute. It makes sense people are afraid for their lives.” (click here for the rest of this article)