It has been 204 years since Haitians struggled, and overthrew their colonist rulers to “officially” bring an end to slavery, or that is what we are led to believe anyway. The Restavecs (translated:to stay with) are the invisible child slaves that labor both in Hati, and in Western nations. Their stories are absolutely heart breaking. They are robbed of any semblance of a childhood. Parents offer their children to wealthier families when they can no longer afford to care for them in the hopes that they will receive a good education, and be given the opportunities that they cannot provide due to their back breaking poverty. These children are forced to work without end, and are often subject to physical, mental, and sexual abuse. One such story can be read here.
Child slavery is not just the story of a “backward” Island across an ocean. According to the Associated Press, Maude Paulin, 52, and a former teacher was sentenced to seven years in prison for forcing a Haitian teenage girl ( Simone Celestin) to work as a slave in her home. She was convicted of conspiring to violate Celestin’s 13th Amendment rights to be free from slavery, of illegally forcing her to work for her and of harboring an alien for financial gain. “Testimony showed Celestin got virtually no schooling, was frequently threatened and beaten, and was forced to sleep on the floor. Celestin testified that she thought about killing herself.Celestin said she was repeatedly hit by Theodore ( the husband) and Paulin — they used shoes, brooms, even a mortar, which is used for grinding food.
Yet despite Celestin’s testamony the court held friends and supporters of Paulin. In fact her daughter testified, “My mother is an inspiration to her friends and her family, to so many people.” She further went on to state, “She is not a monster.” Since when does enslaving someone for six years, and forcing them to work 15 hour days not equate with monstrosity? Perhaps it takes a child to believe when Pauline said, “I love Simone with all my heart. I regret it and blame myself. I did this with my heart and didn’t think with my head.” I pity anyone that is “loved” in a similar fashion. As a mother my heart breaks for Simone. I ache for the childhood that has been lost, and that will never be recovered.
These abuses will continue so long as money equates to power in this world. Parents who are not impoverished would not be inclined to relinquish their children, and hope for the best. Constantly we pay lip service to rights for children and yet daily they are violated either for financial gain or sexual satisfaction. We declare a war on child poverty and do nothing to enrich their parents. In actuality the poor are demonized and treated as less than by a system that values only commodities. Even as I write this people in Hati are surviving on fried mud, and butter due to the recent food crises. What does this mean to families already living in precarious positions? Where is the humanity in this inherently irrational system of exchange that reduces people to commercial items of exchange? How can we be ruled by a tyrannical one percent of the population in direct opposition of our needs, let alone wants?
I weep for the children, and their parents. My sensitive little boy would never survive this. You see he knows only the gentle touch of my hand, and the love of my heart. Isn’t that what all children deserve? Yet I ask myself, what would I do if suddenly I could no longer clothe, feed and shelter him? It is the fear of every mother. A fear that was justified for the mother of Simone. When we rail against despotic, authoritarian governments and what they do to “their” people, remember that slavery happens here too. Remember that western institutions like the World Bank, The Bank of the Americas and the IMF are guilty of perpetuating poverty by their odious loans and unfair SAPS ( structural adjustment programs) Through our own greed, avarice and false belief in a corrupt system of exchange we in part are responsible for children like Simone. Celestin is not just some nameless, faceless child, she represents every child that has been exploited and abused because her parents were destitute and desperate. It is not an ocean that separates you from Simone, it is a sense of shared humanity, because every child belongs to this world.