Slavery and Deliverance in Haiti
By Jeff Dalrymple
Haiti is a beautiful country filled with families that, like all other people, desire fulfilling lives for their children. Unfortunately, natural disasters and human rights issues have plagued this country for much of its history.
Slavery, in particular, has been an ongoing struggle in Haiti dating all the way back to the year 1664. It was this year that France formally took control over the region that would one day become Haiti and began using the fertile land to grow tobacco, cocoa, sugar and other highly profitable goods. In order to maintain and grow their empire the French imported countless African people to work as slaves. This was the beginning of what became a long history of abuse of humans as slaves. In 1791 a slave rebellion was led by one of the enslaved men named Toussaint Louverture. After long, arduous and costly fighting the enslaved people were able to liberate themselves from the grips of the French and the free nation of Haiti was established in 1804. This slave revolt in Haiti was hugely impactful. It effectively ended the European slave trade in Haiti and initiated the decline of European slave trade internationally as well. Many believe that this rebellion stands alone as the only successful slave revolt in human history. This incredible history of deliverance should be what characterizes Haiti. Tragically, a new form of bondage has arisen in Haiti that threatens a new generation, it is known as restavek.
Restavek is the practice of impoverished families allowing their children to be “adopted” or selling their children to wealthy families in the hopes that their children will be given a better life. However, in many cases, these children become domestic slaves. The term “restavek,” is native Creole and comes from the French words rester avec, or “to stay with.” Meaning that the children are “staying with” the new wealthy family rather than their own. Around 60% of restavek slaves are females, and they are often forced to work grueling days being tasked with various duties around the household. Restavek slaves typically start their day by escorting the biological children of their host family to school and carry the student’s books so that they don’t have to do so themselves. Then they return to their homes and carry out the other assignments doled out by their masters. These jobs can include scrubbing bedpans, retrieving water from wells, cooking meals, caring for other children, and more. Sadly, they do all of these things for very little monetary compensation, if any at all. In most cases, the only payment received by restavek children comes in the form of scant meals and a place to sleep.
The restavek slave trade is prominent in Haiti largely as a result of the widespread poverty in the country. While slavery is illegal in Haiti, it thrives due to a state that has very limited resources, even in law enforcement. Haiti is ranked as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with approximately 60.7% of the population living below the poverty line and a 50% unemployment rate. There are several tragedies that have primarily created this mass level of poverty. Two of the most devastating events have been earthquakes and hurricanes. Other contributors are disease outbreaks and famines in recent years. These disasters have decimated the infrastructure of the country and created dire circumstances for the population. In some cases, the practice of restavek has been practically forced upon impoverished families. They see no other option for the care of their children other than to give (or sometimes sell) their children into domestic slavery so that they may survive.
It is estimated that 1 in every 15 children in Haiti are enslaved as restaveks. Many restaveks are born into caring families but the severe financial distress of the country crushes their ability to provide for their children. A substantial number of families are unable to support their children with basic necessities. Schools are few and far between, particularly in rural areas, so most children don’t have the opportunity to receive an education. Which is even weightier considering that education is crucial in breaking the cycle of poverty. It is out of this desperation that many parents turn to selling their children to be used as domestic slaves, restaveks. So they bid farewell to their young children and offer them as restaveks in the hope that it will enable them to live a better life, but prosperity for these children is the exception rather than the rule.
Deliverance from restavek slavery will not be able to echo the deliverance that was won in the 1700s because this modern slavery is endured by children. These children are separated from their families and are powerless to their circumstance while their families believe that they have helped them. This practice of restavek is heartbreaking to consider.
Christians should not turn their eyes from this wicked reality but rather, be motivated to seek justice and freedom for these children. There are many Christian organizations committed to ending restavek slavery in Haiti but they can’t do it alone. Evangelicals can join in deliverance for these children by seeking the Lord in prayer on their behalf, becoming more educated about the state of Haiti and joining in partnership with BHM or one of the other many organizations developed to bring change to Haiti. Though these efforts and the work of the Lord deliverance can come to these children.