Tens of Thousands of Haitian Children Are Trapped in Child Labor Nightmare

As the sun sets in the West, the sea beyond Port-au-Prince turns a dreamy orange. This view of the ocean from Haiti’s downtown capital can seem tranquil, but for tens of thousands of restavek children dusk marks a deepening nightmare.

One of these girls is 9-year-old Ana. I met Ana while working with restaveks and street children in Port-au-Prince. Two years earlier, at 7 years old, she was sent by her parents to the city to live with distant relatives. As the oldest of four children from a poor rural family without access to education or basic health care, Ana’s parents decided to give her away, hoping she would have a chance at a better life in the city. This decision to send away one child in hopes of dedicating their few resources to feeding and caring for their three other children is tragically common in rural Haiti. The National Coalition for Haitian Rights estimates that 300,000 are working as child slaves in Haiti.

If waking up each morning before dawn to begin a day of backbreaking work weren’t horrifying enough for a 9-year-old, nightfall brings new terrors: sexual abuse by one of the men in the household. Too many children fear the dark because of the constant threat of abuse.

June 12 is World Day Against Child Labor, when we pause to think about the estimated 5.5 million children below the age of 17 who are victims of forced labor. In Haiti, there is a long history of restaveks dating back to colonial times — the term comes from the French "reste avec", or "stay with." While the practice has become less common in wealthier households, restaveks are increasingly found in…

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