Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations Office of Drug and Crimes as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, or the abuse of power or a position of vulnerability, or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation.
In developing countries such as Haiti, where, according to the World Bank, a quarter of people live on less than $1.23 per day, this type of activity happens frequently, often because parents are unable to provide their children with the education and food they need. In most cases, they are sent to live with other families or orphanages on the promise that they will be taken care of. In exchange, the children are required to perform domestic services.
The term used to refer to these children is “restavèk,” a Haitian Creole word meaning “to stay with.” There are an estimated 250,000 to 400,000 restavèk children in Haiti. Because of the domestic nature of these services, it is hard for governing agencies to determine if many children are being used as restavèk labor.
Many children sent to live in orphanages end up in terrible conditions, with no clean water or medical care, and they are often sexually exploited. In November, a 35-year-old man from Miami was found guilty of traveling to Haiti multiple times to engage in illicit sexual conduct with minor girls under his care at an orphanage in the city of Jacmel.
There have been several laws and decrees issued by the Haitian government to set boundaries for child domestic labor, including in 2015 the creation of a national committee on human trafficking. Most of these laws are underfunded or unknown to the public, and law enforcement struggles to implement many governmental policies. So restavèk labor continues to be a widespread practice in all social classes across Haiti, despite the laws against it.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. This sheds light on what is happening not just in Haiti but around the world. Additionally, organizations such as Lumos and LiveBeyond are proactively trying to educate and end the cycle of human trafficking and child labor. So far, Lumos has worked with the Haitian government to close five orphanages that traffic children.
At LiveBeyond, the Kè Pou Timoun program provides an alternative for parents faced with sending off their children. Kè Pou Timoun means Heart for Children in Haitian Creole.
The goal of this program is to improve all areas of the children’s lives. Monday through Friday, more than 200 children come to the LiveBeyond base for two nutritious meals, literacy lessons in Creole and English, Bible lessons, tutoring, leadership training, and regular basic health checkups. Taking the financial stress off families means they can keep their children at home, where they are safe, and reduce the risk that they will be trafficked.
What can the average American do to help prevent human trafficking? Because poverty is a root cause, the best course of action is to support organizations working to eradicate poverty with sustainable solutions, such as LiveBeyond. Anyone looking to donate to other groups working in Haiti should research them carefully, as Lumos has done, to ensure they are truly looking out for the best interests of families in need, and then give to those organizations.
With all of us working together, we can make a difference for all these precious children, protecting them from lives of slavery and prostitution.
Devin Vanderpool of Kerrville is the director of communications for LiveBeyond, a nonprofit humanitarian organization founded by David and Laurie Vanderpool in 2005 dedicated to providing clean water, medical care and adequate nutrition to the poorest of the poor.
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