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A restavec (or restavek; from the French reste avec, "one who stays with") is a child in Haiti who is sent by their parents to work for a host household as a domestic servant because the parents lack the resources required to support the child. The restavek may be treated well, or abused. Restavek may refer to a child staying with a host family, but usually refers specifically to those who are abused.

In Haiti, parents unable to care for children may send them to live with more affluent families. This is perceived as acceptable because in Haitian culture, it is ubiquitous for housing to be shared among members of an extended family, including distant relatives. (In contrast, the concept of a single nuclear family occupying each household is seen as desirable in other cultures.) Therefore, in Haiti it is acceptable for parents to send children to distant relatives to live. Often these relatives are living in more urban areas. The children receive food and housing (and sometimes an education) in exchange for housework. However, many restavecs live in poverty, not receiving an education.[citation needed] Sometimes, the child is raped.[1] The United Nations considers restavec a "modern form of slavery".[1]

Jean-Robert Cadet vividly recounted his life as a Restavec. According to him, a term for children staying with host families who are not abused by them is timoun ki rete kay moun (Kreyol for "child who stays in a person's house.")


Poverty, and slavery have been connected with Haitian culture since Spain and France divided Hispaniola.[citation needed] Haiti proclaimed independence in 1804.[2] Rich, light-skinned Haitians controlled the government.[2] The elite class made the poor families believe that if they did not have enough money, then they should send their children off.[citation needed][original research?] A lot of poor families resorted to this way of life.[original research?]

Characteristics of Restavecs

They are mostly young black girls that are around the age of 9 and younger.[3] However, there are still young males that are involved in this system as well. These young girls are born into poverty and they have suffered some type of mental, physical, and sexual abuse.[3] They have no social or political voice, so they can not determine their futures.[3] A lot of parents send their children to be restavecs thinking that they are going to live a better life, but a lot of times this is not the case.[3] Children who are raised in a poor family or lose their parents become domestic workers in Haiti.[2]


Restavecs are not paid for long working hours. They work in horrible conditions that are not good for their health.[4] While at work many of the children suffer sexual harassment from their owners.[5]

Restavecs are slave children who "belong" to well-to-do families. They receive no pay and are kept out of school. Since the emancipation and independence of 1804, affluent blacks and mulattoes have reintroduced slavery by using children of the very poor as house servants. They promise poor families in faraway villages who have too many mouths to feed a better life for their children. Once acquired, these children lose contact with their families and, like slaves of the past, are sometimes given new names for the sake of convenience.[4]

A 2009 study by the Pan American Development Foundation found the following:

In general, leading indicators of restavèk treatment include work expectations equivalent to adult servants and long hours that surpass the cultural norm for children’s work at home, inferior food and clothing compared to other children in the home, sleeping on the floor rather than in a bed, no time out for play, and a common expectation that the restavèk child must use formal terms of address when speaking to social superiors including virtually all other household members. This expectation applies to restavèk relations to other children in the household, even children younger than the restavèk child, e.g., Msye Jak (“Mister Jacques” rather than simply Jacques).[6]

Education is also an important indicator in detecting child domesticity. Children in domesticity may or may not attend school, but when they do attend, it is generally an inferior school compared to other children. Restavek children are also more likely to be overage for their grade level, and their rates of non-enrollment are higher than non-restavèk children in the home.[6]

Current condition

The adult class of this community cannot provide for their children so they still continue to send them to be restavecs. Haiti is a nation of eight million people and 300,000 children are restavecs[7] There is still a "hidden nature" about this domestic service that these children have to deal with.[citation needed] Employers and other elite people want these restavecs because they know that they can pay them little or no wages and children have more energy so they can work longer hours.[8]

As poverty and political turmoil to increase, human rights observers[who?] report that the number of restavecs continues to rise dramatically [7] Most people will get rid of their restavecs by the time they turn fifteen, because a law was passed stating that at age fifteen all people must be paid.[citation needed] Therefore, these children are then thrown out into the streets to provide for themselves.[original research?] Right now there are efforts being made to help these children in Haiti.

In May 2009, over 500 Haitian leaders gathered in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti to discuss the restavec system and how to make positive changes to this complex problem.[9] Leaders from all facets of society attended the full day session and conference organizers from The Jean Cadet Restavek Foundation and Fondation Maurice Sixto hope that this dialog is the start of a large grass-roots movement to, at a minimum, stop the abuse of restavec children.[9]

It is believed that the 2010 Haiti earthquake has caused many more children to become restaveks, as children who were orphaned by the quake could potentially be turned over by distant relatives who cannot care for them.[10]


In 2009 the Pan American Development Foundation published the findings of an extensive door-to-door survey conducted in several cities in Haiti, focused on restaveks. The report found that 225,000 restaveks are in Haiti. It also found that 11% of households who have restaveks working for them also send their own children to work as restaveks for someone else. The report can be found here.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Painful plight of Haiti's 'restavec' children -". CNN. January 21, 2010. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Janak, Timothy C., (1998) Haiti's "Restavec" slave children:Difficult choices, difficult lives, yet...Lespwa fe Viv University of Texas Press
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3
  4. 4.0 4.1 Cadet, Jean-Robert, (1998) Restavec:From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American University of Texas Press
  5. Kolbe, A. & Hutson, R. (2006). Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a random survey of households. The Lancet, 368(9538), pp 864-873
  6. 6.0 6.1 Pan American Development Foundation (2009) Lost Childhoods
  7. 7.0 7.1 Cohen, Gigi (2004-03-24). "Haiti's Dark secret:The Restavecs". National Public Radio. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Cohen" defined multiple times with different content
  8. Chung, D, (1997) The Development Challenge in Haiti World Bank
  9. 9.0 9.1
  10. Scott Pelley (March 21, 2010). "The Lost Children of Haiti". 60 Minutes of CBS News.;segmentTitle.

External links

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