January 11 is Human Trafficking Awareness Day, a significant day to specifically reflect on the plight of children forced into extreme domestic servitude. In poverty-stricken Haiti, where this practice is commonplace and ingrained in the culture, these are called restavec children. Restevac is a French word that means “to stay with” or “to rest with.” It is estimated that 1 out of every 10 Haitian children are restavec.
Whether in Haiti or in any other country in the world, children given to this life are typically from extremely poor families. Parents cannot meet the basic needs of their family, so they send a child—often at a very young age—away to work for wealthier families they believe will provide not only for their basic needs but possibly provide an education. They trust that the child will have a better life.
These vulnerable children, however, are not only separated from their families but are also often exploited and abused sexually, physically, and/or emotionally. They are servants to both the adults and biological children of the host families, with few rights and treated without even basic human dignity.
In Ghana, one 29-year-old woman named Dora is still suffering the effects of a life of servitude that began at age 5. Dora was sent to live with another family in hope of an education and better life, but instead she did household chores and sold water on the street while the family’s three children went to school. Dora was given very little food and was severely beaten when her sale of water did not meet her host’s expectations. When her mother visited her after years of this treatment and then took her home, her life became a heartbreaking cycle of becoming pregnant by men who only promised marriage as she remained illiterate and untrained. Now Dora is seeking training to sustain her family, but her life in servitude has cost her and her family dearly.
Around the world, children like Dora was—those who still live with their biological families—are at risk of becoming restavec children. Churches and social service agencies like Bethany Christian Services are attempting to break the cycle by providing assistance and education to keep families in poverty together. Families who currently have restavec children in their homes are being introduced to the idea that every child deserves a loving home and then encouraged to release the child to be reunited with their family, or to at least allow organizations to work with them for the well-being of the child. Social services organizations also work to secure substitute family systems when biological parents are unavailable and work with governments to create a plan for possible domestic adoption.
Even if the life of only one child is changed, that child becomes empowered to help prevent the restavec cycle from continuing. I encourage all Christians to consider—especially now—what God would have them do in prayer and support for the sake of these vulnerable children of the world.