A restavec from the French language reste avec, "one who stays with" is a child who is sent by his or her parents to work for a host household as a domestic servant because the parents lack the resources required to support the child. Restavec may refer to any child staying with a host family, but usually refers specifically to those who are indentured.
In Haiti, parents unable to care for children may send them to live with more capable families; often their own relatives or friends. This is tolerated in Haitian culture, but not considered to be preferable. Often the relatives who host restavecs live in more urban areas. The children receive food and housing (and sometimes an education) in exchange for doing housework. However, many restavecs live in poverty, may not receive proper education, and may be abused.
Jean-Robert Cadet vividly recounted his life as a restavec. According to him, a term for children staying with host families who do not abuse them is timoun ki rete kay moun (Kreyol for "child who stays in a person's house.")
Haiti Social History
Poverty and slavery have been connected with Haitian culture since Spain and France divided Hispaniola. Haiti proclaimed independence in 1804. European and western countries such as France and the United States then applied several rigid fines and prevented Haiti from accessing international resources. These European countries ensured that Haiti would not be part of the international world market and therefore would never gain true financial stability. The psychological and physical brutality of slavery, continued to impact Haiti as it has many African communities across the Diaspora. Therefore, the false image of what is important to white society (i.e. skin complexion, money, power) generated continued separation among those formerly enslaved in Haiti.
Characteristics of restavecs
Restavecs are typically young girls. However, young males are involved as well. These children are born into poverty. They have no social or political voice, so they can not determine their futures. It should be noted that in many cases the current condition is either good or better than the alternative. A lot of parents send their children to be restavecs expecting the children will live a better life, but in many cases this is not what happens; simply enough food and housing is what they are awarded with. Children who are raised in a poor family or lose their parents become domestic workers in Haiti, as well.
Restavecs are generally only paid in food and shelter.
The restavec phenomenon is the result of complex, global forces. Guerda Lexima-Constant, a child rights advocate with the Haitian Limyè Lavi Foundation, says: "I have yet to meet anyone who wanted to send their kid to be a restavec. Parents are forced to because of a lot of national and international givens. The [economic] means they used to have, they don’t anymore. The invasion of foreign rice, eggs, and other things on the market by big business, destroying the peasant economy . . . there’s been a whole chain of events that makes some people have to send their child away."
While the restavec issue is often portrayed as an act of savagery inherent to Haitian culture, it is poverty that engenders such a phenomenon, and structural and global forces that cause that poverty. Limyè Lavi, the Restavek Freedom Foundation, and others are doing important work to challenge those in their society who perpetuate this practice and to highlight how it is linked to deeper issues. Efforts also exist to address the root cause of child servitude. Improving the economy, especially through government support for the rural population, would undermine parents’ incentive to give children up, as would an improved health care and education system.
A 2009 study by the Pan American Development Foundation found the following:
In general, leading indicators of restavèk treatment include work expectations equivalent to adult servants and long hours that surpass the cultural norm for children’s work at home.
Education is also an important indicator in detecting child domesticity. Children in domesticity may or may not attend school, but when they do attend, it is generally an inferior school compared to other children. Restavek children are also more likely to be average for their grade level, and their rates of non-enrollment are higher than non-restavèk children in the home.
The adult class of this community cannot provide for their children so they still continue to send them to be restavecs. Haiti is a nation of 10 million people and thousands of children are restavecs There is still a "hidden nature" about this domestic service that these children have to deal with. Employers and other elite people want these restavecs because they know that they can pay them little or no wages.
As poverty and political turmoil increase, human rights observers[who?] report that the number of restavecs continues to rise dramatically  Most people will get rid of their restavecs by the time they turn fifteen, because a law was passed stating that at age fifteen all people must be paid.
In May 2009, over 500 Haitian leaders gathered in Port-au-Prince, Haiti to discuss the restavec condition and how to make positive changes to this complex problem. Leaders from all facets of society attended the full day session and conference organizers from The Jean Cadet Restavec Foundation and Fondation Maurice Sixto hope that this dialog is the start of a large grass-roots movement to, at a minimum, stop the abuse of restavec children. The Restavec Freedom Foundation hosted 13 additional conferences titled "Compassion and Courage" across Haiti. These conferences were hosted from the spring 2012 through the spring of 2013 and asked community leaders and pastors to take a stand on the issue of restavec. Over 3,000 leaders participated in these conferences and have agreed to take the lead in their respective communities to bring an end to the restavec situatation.
Other organizations in Haiti, such as Restavec Freedom Alliance, BEM Inc. are also actively working in south-western Haiti with restavec children.
It is believed that the 2010 Haiti earthquake has caused many more children to become restavecs, as children who were orphaned by the quake could potentially be turned over by distant relatives who cannot care for them.
In 2009, the Pan American Development Foundation published the findings of an extensive door-to-door survey conducted in several cities in Haiti, focused on restavecs. The findings document thousands of restavecs living in Haiti. The report also found that 11% of households who have restavecs working for them also send their own children to work as restavecs for someone else.
In popular culture
Law & Order: "Chattel" (episode 19.8, original airdate January 7, 2009) depicts the discovery, investigation, and disposition of a ring of white Americans who adopt Haitian children and employ them as restavecs.
The Philanthropist episode Hati, a girl restavec is a main part of the story.
Boston Legal: In the episode "Fat Burner" (season 3, episode 15), Attorney Clarence Bell gives representation to a girl restavec who, after being impregnated by her master, stabbed the man to death after he had informed her that he intended to sell her child.
- Janak, Timothy C., (1998) Haiti's "Restavec" slave children:Difficult choices, difficult lives, yet...Lespwa fe Viv University of Texas Press
- Bell, Beverly (2013). Fault Lines: Views Across Haiti's Divide. Cornell University Press. pp. 143-145 ISBN 978-0-8014-7769-0.
- Pan American Development Foundation (2009) Lost Childhoods
- Cohen, Gigi (2004-03-24). "Haiti's Dark secret:The Restavecs". National Public Radio.
- Kompasyon ak Kouraj
- Restavec Freedom Foundation
- Restavec Freedom Alliance, BEM Inc.
- Scott Pelley (March 21, 2010). "The Lost Children of Haiti". 60 Minutes of CBS News.
- Pan American Development Foundation. "Report". I Too am Haiti.
- See p. 7 in http://www.boston-legal.org/script/BL03x15.pdf
- - Restavec Freedom Alliance
- The Jean R. Cadet Restavek Organization - The Jean R. Cadet Restavek Organization
- I Too Am Haiti - An awareness campaign to stop trafficking and exploitation
- Hope for Haiti: Education and grassroots development in rural Haiti
- Children in servitude, the poorest of Haiti's poor
- UN EXPERT ON SLAVERY EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER 'RESTAVEK' SYSTEM IN HAITI
- Restavek Freedom Foundation - Restavek Freedom Foundation
- The brutal life of Haiti's child slaves - BBC News article