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Haiti has the second-highest incidences of slavery in the world, behind only Mauritania. (Estimates from the Walk Free Foundation.)

A restavec from the French language French reste avec, "one who stays with") is a child in 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 abused.

In Haiti, parents unable to care for children may send them to live with more affluent families. This is considered acceptable in Haitian culture, wherein it is commonplace for housing to be shared among members of an extended family, including distant relatives. (In contrast, the concept of a single nuclear family's occupying a household is seen as desirable in some other cultures.) Often the relatives who host restavec 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 sometimes, may be abused, beaten or raped.[1] The United Nations considers restavec a "modern form of slavery".[1]

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.")


Poverty and slavery have been connected with Haitian culture since Spain and France divided Hispaniola.[citation needed] Haiti proclaimed independence in 1804.[2] European and western countries such as France and the United States then applied several rigid fines and Haiti from accessing international resources. These European countries ensured that Haiti would not be part of the international world market and therefore 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. Later, wealthy, whites and light-skinned Haitians controlled the government.[2] The elite class made the poor families believe that if they did not have enough money, then they should send their children off.[citation needed][original research?] A lot of poor families resorted to this way of life.[original research?]

Characteristics of restavecs[edit]

Restavecs are typically young black girls aged approximately 4 and younger.[3] However, young males are involved in this system, as well. These children are born into poverty and many have suffered some type of mental, physical, or sexual abuse.[3] They have no social or political voice, so they can not determine their futures.[3] A lot of parents send their children to be restavecs expecting the children will live a better life, but often this is not the case.[3] Children who are raised in a poor family or lose their parents become domestic workers in Haiti, as well.[2]


Restavecs are not paid for long working hours. They work in horrible conditions that are not good for their health.[clarification needed][4] While at work many of the children suffer sexual harassment from their owners.[5]

Restavecs are slave children who "belong" to well-to-do families. They receive no pay and are kept out of school. Since the emancipation and independence of 1804, affluent blacks and mulattoes have reintroduced slavery by using children of the very poor as house servants. They promise poor families in faraway villages who have too many mouths to feed a better life for their children. Once acquired, these children lose contact with their families and, like slaves of the past, are sometimes given new names for the sake of convenience.[4]

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."[6]

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.[6]

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, inferior food and clothing compared to other children in the home, sleeping on the floor rather than in a bed, no time out for play, and a common expectation that the restavèk child must use formal terms of address when speaking to social superiors including virtually all other household members. This expectation applies to restavèk relations to other children in the household, even children younger than the restavèk child, e.g., Msye Jak (“Mister Jacques” rather than simply Jacques).[7]

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.[7]

Current situation[edit]

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 eight million people and 300,000 children are restavecs[8] There is still a "hidden nature" about this domestic service that these children have to deal with.[citation needed] Employers and other elite people want these restavecs because they know that they can pay them little or no wages and children have more energy so they can work longer hours.[9]

As poverty and political turmoil increase, human rights observers[who?] report that the number of restavecs continues to rise dramatically [8] 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.[citation needed] Therefore, these children are then thrown out into the streets to provide for themselves.[original research?] Right now there are efforts being made to help these children in Haiti.

In May 2009, over 500 Haitian leaders gathered in Port-au-Prince, Haiti to discuss the restavec system and how to make positive changes to this complex problem.[10] 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.[10] The Restavec Freedom Foundation hosted 13 additional conferences titled "Compassion and Courage"[11] 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 system. [12]

Other organizations in Haiti, such as Restavec Freedom Alliance, BEM Inc. are also actively working in south-western Haiti with restavec children.[13]

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.[14]


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 225,000 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.[15]

Other Cultures[edit]

Although extensive sociological studies have been made[citation needed] of the restavec phenomenon in Haiti, similar arrangements exist in other cultures.[clarification needed]

In popular culture[edit]

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.


  1. ^ a b "Painful plight of Haiti's 'restavec' children -". CNN. January 21, 2010. Retrieved May 22, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c Janak, Timothy C., (1998) Haiti's "Restavec" slave children:Difficult choices, difficult lives, yet...Lespwa fe Viv University of Texas Press
  3. ^ a b c d
  4. ^ a b Cadet, Jean-Robert, (1998) Restavec:From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American University of Texas Press
  5. ^ Kolbe, A. & Hutson, R. (2006). Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a random survey of households. The Lancet, 368(9538), pp. 864-873
  6. ^ a b Bell, Beverly (2013). Fault Lines: Views Across Haiti's Divide. Cornell University Press. pp. 143-145 ISBN 978-0-8014-7769-0.
  7. ^ a b Pan American Development Foundation (2009) Lost Childhoods
  8. ^ a b Cohen, Gigi (2004-03-24). "Haiti's Dark secret:The Restavecs". National Public Radio. 
  9. ^ Chung, D, (1997) The Development Challenge in Haiti World Bank
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ Kompasyon ak Kouraj
  12. ^ Restavec Freedom Foundation
  13. ^ Restavec Freedom Alliance, BEM Inc.
  14. ^ Scott Pelley (March 21, 2010). "The Lost Children of Haiti". 60 Minutes of CBS News. 
  15. ^ Pan American Development Foundation. "Report". I Too am Haiti. 

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