UN Concern over the Haiti 'Restavek' System

The UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, expressed deep concern last week over the highly exploitative nature of the 'restavek' system in Haiti, which she considered to be a modern form of slavery.  Under the system children from the age of eight or nine upwards (mainly girls) are sent from destitute or bereaved rural families to stay with distant relatives or strangers in the city and allegedly in return for some domestic help, receive food and lodging and education.  When the child reaches the age of 15, he or she is then often thrown onto the street as at that age payment of wages has to be made.

In reality the children work long hours in drudgery, get no education, and are frequently sexually and physically abused.  Increasingly the direct placement of children from one family to another has been replaced by adult 'recruiters' who, for a fee,  recruit children from rural areas for domestic slavery. 

The Rapporteur noted that Haitian government officials recognised the situation and were attempting to address the issue.  A Brigade de Protection des Mineurs had been established despite insufficient human and financial resources.  However, many challenges remained before the restavek system could be eradicated.

The Rapporteur noted that the abuse of these children indicated a failure of the Haitian government to meet its obligations under a number of international treaties and conventions it has ratified – the UN Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Practices similar to Slavery;  ILO Convention No. 29 on Forced Labour;  the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination against Women; ILO Convention No.182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.

The Rapporteur made a large number of recommendations to the Haitian government about the protection of vulnerable children and the need for free schooling and a comprehensoive health care system, which would remove the need for the restavek system and other exploitation and abuse of children in that country.

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