PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Poverty has forced at least 225,000 children in Haiti’s cities into slavery as unpaid household servants, far more than previously thought, a report said Tuesday.
The Pan American Development Foundation’s report also said some of those children – mostly young girls – suffer sexual, psychological and physical abuse while toiling in extreme hardship.
The report recommends Haiti’s government and international donors focus efforts on educating the poor and expanding social services such as shelters for girls, who make up an estimated two-thirds of the child servant population.
Young servants are known as “restavek” – Haitian Creole for “stays with” – and their plight is both widely known and a source of great shame in the Caribbean nation that was founded by a slave revolt more than 200 years ago.
Researchers said the practice is so common that almost half of 257 children interviewed in the sprawling Port-au-Prince shantytown of Cite Soleil were household slaves.
Most are sent by parents who cannot afford to care for them to families just slightly better off. Researchers found 11 percent of families that have a restavek have sent their own children into domestic servitude elsewhere.