Monday, February 1, 2010

Haitian orphans, trafficking, and restavecs

The NYT has a story today about a group of ten Americans arrested in Haiti for allegedly trying to take 33 Haitian children – supposedly in an orphanage before the quake struck – to a house the group owned in the Dominican Republic. Haiti has suspended all adoptions not already in process, out of fear that amidst the chaos children who are not really orphans will be taken.

However, at the end of the article, the author notes that for some Haitian parents, parting with their children is a more desirable option than not being able to provide for them:

Still, some parents in Haiti have openly said that they would consider parting with their children if it meant a better life elsewhere. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and while the country is in need of help, many citizens have mixed feelings toward Christian groups and their missions in Haiti.

“Some parents I know have already given their children to foreigners,” Adonis Helman, 44, told The A.P. “I’ve been thinking how I will choose which one I may give — probably my youngest.”

Even before the earthquake, Haiti had a tradition of this sort of child mobility. "Restavecs," as they're known (from the French "reste avec" – live with), are sold by their parents to wealthier families (edit: sorry for the error; they're not sold, they're given away – big difference), with the promise (sometimes empty) that they'll be educated, in exchange for the child doing work around the house. (Edit again: I think I emphasized the exchange part too much in the original. Really, they're just sending their kids away – all kids in third-world countries do housework, not just restavecs.) Obviously there are cases where the restavecs become de facto sex slaves, but given that the institute has survived for two centuries, there must be some redeeming value in it. (Here is an article about one restavec after the earthquake.)

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