Restaveks: Modern Slavery in Haiti

A restavèk (rest-avEK) is a child in Haiti sent to work for another household as a domestic servant. The term comes from a combination of the French words “rester” and “avec,” which means “to stay with.” Restavèks trade manual labor and house work in exchange for food and shelter.

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Born of endemic systemic poverty, with roots in colonization and the French slave trade, this system is usually a last resort for parents unable to provide for their children. Struggling families are approached by “recruiters” looking to find servants to work for less poor families, and they often have no choice but to agree.

The system is unfortunately common in Haiti, with an estimated 300,000 - 500,000 children living and working as restavèks. It got worse following the 2010 earthquake, when many kids were displaced from their homes and separated from their families, and needed a way to survive.

While some households are caring and generous towards the children in their care, that is often not the case. The term restavèk carries a negative connotation for the children it describes, and they are treated accordingly, with back-breaking work; long hours; and emotional, physical, and often sexual abuse by host family members.

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Chances of leaving or getting out are slim, since most restavèks have a limited education, aren’t compensated, and have no safety net. Many street children are former restavèks that have been dismissed by or ran away from their host families. Even those kids don’t fully escape the life, falling into a lower level of domestic servitude, increasing their chances of exploitation and trafficking even more.

The United Nations considers this practice a form of modern slavery, which has a lasting effect on restavèks’ education, health, mental wellbeing and overall development. Several of the children in our care narrowly escaped this life, and we want to continue to make a difference in their lives, and the lives of other children at risk.


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Rico C.