While many wonderful individuals and charitable organizations are rushing into Haiti to help the survivors of Hurricane Matthew, there are others who are using the storm for their own personal gain by scooping up displaced children and selling them.
During the last 18 months, I have frequently mentioned in my Haitian Journal how kids in Haiti are frequently sold by their parents into domestic servitude because the parents can’t afford to care for the child. A child who has been sold into servitude is called a “restavec,” a word which comes from the French reste avec meaning “one who stays with.” Restavecs are typically young girls who have been born into severe poverty. These children receive food and shelter in exchange for doing housework. Restavecs are usually treated badly; they will not receive any education and are often physically abused and sexually molested.
Tragically, the life of a restavec is often considered better than the alternative life of chronic, hopeless poverty, which is why some parents allow their children to become restavecs. We have one young girl living at Santa Chiara who was a restavec; she ran away from the family she was sold to and sought refuge with us. Haiti is a nation of ten million people, and thousands of children are restavecs. Theirs is a hidden, harsh life. As poverty and political turmoil increases, so do the numbers of restavecs. A few years ago, in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Haiti, it was estimated that at least 150,000 kids, and perhaps as many as 500,000 kids, were sold into domestic servitude, where they were susceptible to beatings and sexual assaults.
Human traffickers prey on the ranks of restavecs. Hurricane Matthew has exacerbated the risks for kids displaced by the storm to be further victimized by human traffickers. The deadly storm killed over a thousand people in Haiti; it wiped way entire towns and villages. Children of families who lost everything, and those who were separated from their parents, may get sold into forced labor and be subjected to other atrocities because they’re so vulnerable. It has been estimated that at least 2,000 vulnerable children have been separated from their parents by the storm. Some of those kids probably have been evacuated to orphanages. While Port-au-Prince was spared the blunt of the hurricane, the torrential rains and winds did damage many schools in the city leaving many kids with nowhere to go each day. The schools where we are sending 13 of our kids are opened and our kids are attending school. Of course, our classes at Santa Chiara were not interrupted by the storm.
What troubles me now in the aftermath of the storm is the reality that traffickers will use the storm to their advantage by approaching families who have lost everything and promising them a better future for their kids. This is exactly what happened after the earthquake…and in all probability it is happening right now.
Hurricane Matthew just accentuates the importance of the Santa Chiara Children’s Center. I truly need your help in keeping the Santa Chiara Children’s Center a viable and safe option for families and children in dire need. I fully realize we can’t respond to the overwhelming devastation in the western part of Haiti, but we can be a light in the darkness to the kids in our neighborhood in Haiti. I think many people from the rural, coastal areas, including countless children, who were displaced by the hurricane will migrate to Port-au-Prince. We need to be ready to serve them.