I’ve been having the debate about child servitude for many years. Child labor is still a huge issue in Haiti, where even if the government put a stop to it tomorrow, we would be left with the issue of hundreds of thousands of children who have nowhere to go.
This issue isn’t as black and white as I wish – at least not for me. Obviously, I am against any forced labor (for anyone) and any form of abuse. The reason why eliminating child labor is a sticky topic, at least in Haiti is that there are families who really think that they are helping. The rationale is that if they didn’t “take these children in”, they would be starving and in must worse conditions. This is not always true. There’s also the issue that culturally Haitian children, whether they are with family or not, tend to have a lot of chores. The idea of women having a lot of children is so that they will have help – both immediately and in the future when the child is a working adult.
Up until about 10 years ago, my family had a “restavek” who lived with my grandmother for about 5 years – we’ll call her Marie. We knew her family through the maid who had been working with us for 20 years. When she came to live with my grandmother at the request of her mother, her family was no longer able to send her to school (she was about 9 years old) and was struggling to feed her. They knew that my grandmother lived alone and needed help around the house, especially in the evening when the maid left for the day. So, on the surface it seemed to make sense. Now, I must say that Marie was never abused or mistreated (she was considered family), was clothed, fed and sent to school while living with us; all things her parents said they were unable to do. However, I still don’t think that it is or was okay to make this deal and here’s why:
Had there been other children her in age in the home who were blood related, Marie would have had to carry the brunt of the work.
She would have most likely felt more like a servant than someone carrying her fair share.
I can’t imagine how Marie must have felt being handed over so easily by her parents – even if she did see them often.
Marie eventually moved back home when my grandmother moved to the states and soon after became a teen mother. I can’t help wonder if she felt rejection from us, too.
This was only the situation in my house, but I know that many other children are in dire circumstances. I even know of cases where children were adopted, after being sold by their parents – to foreigners. I remember a CNN reporter went to Port-au-Prince and was able to purchase a child in fewer than 12 hours. The problem is grave.
While I still can’t come up with a simple strategy of how to break the supply and demand cycle of child labor in Haiti (we have to think about the aftermath, as well), I have decided that it will never be okay to have a child in my care under those circumstances. Since foster parenting doesn’t exist in Haiti, adoption would be my only choice and there would never be an expectation that the child “earn” his or her keep. What has become black and white to me on this issue is that children deserve to be children…no matter what.
N.B. This topic came to mind when I wrote about the service sector in the developing world.