by Vlad Sokhin
In modern Haiti more than 300,000 children are victims of domestic slavery. In Haitian Creole they are called “restaveks”, from French “reste avec” – “stay with”. Many parents, who live in poverty, are unable to feed their children and give them away to more affluent families, hoping that their child will live in better conditions and will be able to get an education. But, with few exceptions, restavek children become slaves, working in the homes of their “masters” from early morning till night. They fetch dozens of litres of water a day, cook, wash clothes, clean yards and do all other household chores. They are not allowed to sleep in a bed, eat at the table with the rest of the host-family or play with other children. Most of the restaveks are not permitted to go to school and are exposed to domestic and sexual violence.
After the earthquake of 2010, the situation in Haiti deteriorated significantly, a lot of children lost their homes and parents. A large number of those kids became restaveks. To date, even poor families keep two or three restaveks, treating them sometimes tougher than rich people.
There are several NGOs that aim to put child servitude in the country to an end. One of them, Restavek Freedom Foundation, finds families who have restavek children and convinces their owners to allow them to attend school, offering to pay for the education, school uniforms and books.
But it seems that the help of NGOs is not sufficient to stop child slavery. Haitians, who emerged themselves from centuries of slavery, do not hesitate to use their own children as slaves. In rich families it is not uncommon that the bride receives a child-slave as a wedding gift. Today, few people in Haiti believe that the situation will change in the near future. Neither the Government nor the Church, which has great influence in the country, is in a hurry to condemn the vicious practice of child slavery. According to Jean-Robert Cadet, a former restavek and now a famous fighter against the restavek system, Haiti will be able to solve all its problems only with the termination of exploitation of its own children. Unfortunately, few can hear his appeal and to this day more and more Haitian kids find themselves in slavery to their compatriots.
Vlad Sokhin (RUSSIA / PORTUGAL) is an award winning documentary photographer, videographer and multimedia producer. In his work Vlad covers social, environmental and cultural issues around the world, including post-conflict and natural disaster zones. For the past several years Vlad has been covering human rights and health issues in many developing countries, working on personal projects and collaborating with the United Nations, Amnesty International and other international NGOs.
Vlad’s work has been exhibited and published internationally, including at Visa Pour L’Image and Head On photo festivals and in the International Herald Tribune, the Guardian, National Geographic Traveller, GEO, ABC, BBC, NPR, The Atlantic, Stern, Le Monde, Paris Match, Esquire, Das Magazin, WIRE Amnesty International, Sydney Morning Herald, Marie Claire, The Global Mail, Russian Reporter and others.