By Valerie Dirksen*
In September and October, I wrote about my work in Haiti based on my experiences advocating for a group of victims of a serial predator who had been accused over 10 times in thirty years of abusing the orphans in his care. My phone has been ringing off the wall from people who have heard of this at other orphanages in Haiti. They have told me they tried to bring this to the authorities and humanitarian groups, including the United Nations. They were amazed we had been successful at obtaining an arrest warrant and red interpol arrest warrant for rape, sexual agression and abuse of title. They felt encouraged that a new day had arrived in Haiti, and better days were ahead.
I have also written about the organ trafficking happening in the world. As such a lucrative business with annual profits up to $1.2 billion, and the fact that most Haitians are O+ Blood type which is the most universal, no wonder why the Haitian government has decided Haiti is “Open for Business”… exploiting those who have no way of supporting themselves or their family. Is this a business Haiti wants to be known for? Human trafficking and drug traffickers?
Let’s talk about another topic that is relevant to this problem for children in Haiti. The restavek is a child in Haiti who has been sent by their parents to work for a host household as a domestic servant because their parents lack the resources needed to support the child. Parents may send their children to live with wealthier (or less poor) families who are often their own relatives or friends. The children, usually from rural areas, are sent to live in more urban settings. This proposition is that the child will be able to have food and housing and sometimes an opportunity for education, in exchange for doing housework. In reality, these children live in poverty, usually do not receive an education, and are in grave risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Everyone knows this, but find the topic difficult to discuss or find possible solutions for.
How is this permitted in the first free black nation? The only successful slave revolt in history in 1804? For some reason, the restavek system is tolerated in Haitian culture. Haiti has the largest group of NGOs on the planet, but yet they look the other way at this practice meeting formal international definitions of modern day slavery and child trafficking. Conservative estimates show children currently being used as a restavek numbering 300,000 plus! Child Domestic Workers in Haiti are defined as 1) living away from parents home; 2) not following normal progression in education and 3) working more than other children. this number is more than 500,000! One in four children aged 5-17 currently live away from their biological parents, Sadly, almost three-quarters of these children are girls.
As poverty and political turmoil rises, the reported number of restaveks continues to increase dramatically. All the displacement from the earthquake, and the constant political turmoil, has caused many more children to become restaveks. One Haitian orphanage operator in Kenskoff has thirteen children he helps with very minimal outside help. He recently told me there is a need to open his home to more, but he is sad that he does not have the funding or resources. As a result, these young children, some as young as three years of age, are forced to fend for themselves, by begging on the street, cleaning windows, or falling prey to predators. This scenario has to change.
The best place for a child is with their parents. Members of the international community have talked about addressing the root cause of child servitude for years. There are many “humanitarians” who regularly visit Haiti, and hang out in the Marriott and convene panels, or forums or conferences. They have bracelets, and t-shirts, and nice lunches, but they do nothing to address the problem. These events appear to be self serving, and amount to little more than a field trip to stay at a nice hotel and have a great Haitian meal. So what is the answer? Improving the economy through substantial economic development is the first step. A parent who is gainfully employed, would be able to afford to support their child. These same parents would not be as easily pressured by recruiters to hand their children over to become restaveks if they were able to maintain a home.
One NGO after another who makes their mission to work on behalf of Restavek children have typically focused on raising awareness, engaging host families, encouraging education and a variety of short-term solutions. This is not enough.
One cannot ignore the protests that have been going on since last June. The unarmed youth have taken to the streets. They are tired and have decided their future will be decided by this moment in time, and they want to be on the right side of the issue. They are unarmed, and have been using any means necessary, which some may describe as “guerilla warfare”. They are standing up to sharp shooters, with the best weapons. They are standing up to police who have been trained in military tactics. This week, a Haitian born man arrived at the airport in PAP loaded down with military assault weapons. Whoever packed for him, left a note on some of the rifles, saying “good luck Colonel”. Good luck with what…killing unarmed student protestors? Haitian police said last week that they had arrested a passenger who had three gun cases in his possession. What would cause Jacques Yves Seastien Duroseau, 33, a former US Marine to fly from New Bern, NC to PAP? He had weapons and ammunition. How could he be able to travel commercial airlines with these weapons? What was his mission? What would he need guns including two Uzis and a 45 caliber pistol for? If in fact the weapons were Uzis, they would be considered fully automatic and would be considered illegal to own in the US. This person was caught in the act, but how many go undetected? There are a lot of questions, with few answers, and the international media remains silent to these reports, leading to more speculation as to who is causing the media freeze, and why?
Federal law permits passengers to travel with unloaded firearms as checked baggage as long as they are locked and in a hard-sided container. The traveler is also required to declare the weapons and/or ammunition to the airlines at check-in. With Haiti under a US arms embargo, importing guns into the country without authorization from the Haitian National Police is illegal. The country is full of illegal arms. Social media is full of videos that show gangs engaging in shootouts with assault weapons. Meanwhile, the average Haitian is unarmed, and not able to protect their family.
Since Mr. Duroseau held an American passport, the Embassy Security Officer, was sent to the airport to meet with him. What is the Embassy involvement? What does Ambassador Sison know? What does Justice Minister Aly know? Is this going to be handled like the group former Prime Minister Ceant referred to as “mercenaries” and “terrorists” from the US on February 16th?
Attempts to reach out to the Moise administration and the US Ambassador to Haiti, Michele sison have fallen on deaf ears with no explanation. Like the mercenaries from February, this appears to also violate Haitian criminal procedure. In February, the Haitian administration dismissed the Prime Minister Ceant to settle the problem. What will they do this time, since there is no Prime Minister to dismiss?
Last time US Senator Marco Rubio flew to Haiti to meet with Haitian President Moise. At the time, Rubio called for the formation of a new government and the need for “good faith dialogue” and parliamentary elections scheduled for October”. So much for that idea. Neither of those things have occured, and Rubio’s twitter account tweets about Venezuela and Hong Kong and Bolivia…but is radio silent on Haiti. Interesting reaction given the fact that he wasted no time flying to Haiti in February, and has been close associates of former Martelly friend and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe.
Haitians are protesting for a better life, better education, health care and jobs. The world should encourage them and respect the law. Helen Keller could hear and see the voices and actions of the student protestors, but yet, recent protests of the diaspora have only brought less than 500 people together to stand with their brothers and sisters in Haiti. Having spoken to many opposition leaders in Haiti, they always ask me, “why are the Diaspora not helping us. We have been robbed, and exploited and taken advantage of. It is time to unite, and close the chapter of being known as the most corrupt country in the world. Our children are watching, and we owe it to them.”
“Hear this, you foolish, and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: Jeremiah 5:21. “L’Union fait la force” is a Haitian motto that led to the independence of Haiti. Indeed, in “Unity There’s Strength!” And, in three powerful words–“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”– the Haitian Constitution affirms the essence of our bonding together for the wellbeing of all.
*Valerie Dirksen is – President, International Children’s Rights Advocate’s Society www.icras8.com