Restavèk: The Life of Haiti’s Most Vulnerable Population and the Fight against Child Trafficking

The purpose of my research project was to conduct an in-depth analysis of restavèk, a social system in Haiti where parents send their children off to other families that potentially can give them a better life than the one in which they were born into. Furthermore, this thesis analyzes the conditions that enable this social phenomenon to continue to exist. It is important to note that there is a debate as to whether or not restavèk is a form of child trafficking. Therefore, an examination has been conducted of the root causes of child trafficking, restavèk and the socioeconomic conditions that facilitate these problems. In doing so, this thesis endeavors to situate the restavèk phenomenon within the global definition of human trafficking. The primary population for this study is poor village dwellers in Haiti that send their children to relatives, friends and strangers for a “better life” with the urban dwellers that receive them. Part of this project is to understand how the concept of giving a child a better life may, at times, resemble servitude—a reality that is less desirable for the well-being of the child. In severe cases, a child can be given to an overtly abusive family and is therefore in a worse situation. Using ethnographic research methods, this thesis will address the following three questions: 1) What are the larger cultural, economic, and political structures that create the conditions that compel parents to send their children to live with other relatives, friends and strangers where they might be vulnerable to human trafficking— and how are these factors correlated to socioeconomic-economic characteristics that influence family decisions around the well-being of the child? 2) How might the practice of child fostering as an opportunity for a better life lead parents to accept the risk of child trafficking? And, lastly, 3) Are the existing frameworks for understanding "human trafficking” appropriate or useful in studying restavèk?

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