BACK TO HAITI — How to protect vulnerable girls from slavery

As the second anniversary of Haiti's massive earthquake approaches (Jan. 12), we're taking a look at the work God accomplished through Food for the Hungry in the past year.

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Only since 1982 have Haitian women been considered equal to their husbands in legal status (not subject to their husbands as minors) and allowed to own land, open a bank account, or make any transaction without the authorization of a husband or father.

Almost 30 years later, the legal systems in place to protect women are fragile and unhelpful for most of the population. Understandably, cultural attitudes are even harder to change than laws, so what we see today is a place where domestic violence and violation of women's rights is largely accepted by society. 

This mistreatment is seen acutely among female restaveks (from the French “rester avec” or “to stay with”) — children usually from poor, rural areas who are sent to work in the homes of wealthier families in exchange for food and housing.

Promises of school usually accompany the deal (we learned last week that school in Haiti is out of reach for most kids), but restaveks often are very mistreated and abused while essentially living as slaves far away from their families. Girl restaveks may be subjected to repeated rape.

UNICEF estimates there are about 250,000 children
serving as restaveks in Haiti today. 

Similar to the way women's inequality is deeply rooted in Haitian culture, the vulnerability of children is compounded by tradition as well. Children are expected to acquiesce at all times to an adult or authority figure, and they are unaware of their human rights to protection.

When children suffer abuse, they are unable to say “no” or report the abuse. There are no social services at the community level to protect vulnerable children from abuse or forced servitude.

They have no advocate.

In the past year (Oct. 2010 to Sep. 2011), FH increased the protection of children identified as “highly vulnerable,” with a focus on girls, in 58 Haitian communities.

Realizing the best protection for a child comes from within that child's immediate community — not an external source — FH strives to increase communities' capacity to prevent, recognize and address the mistreatment of their children. Abuse is being unveiled and talked about, and if solutions aren't formed locally, FH helps bring the issue before local officials.

5,546 children participated in learning and discussion sessions
on child slavery, or restaveks.

1,389 community leaders were trained in how to identify, prevent and respond to all forms of child abuse and/or gender-based violence.

276 school teachers learned about children's rights, how to recognize signs of physical or sexual abuse, and how to respond accordingly.

159 faith-based women mentors received extensive training and materials on case work, counseling, protection and gender-based violence.

1,590 vulnerable girls gained valuable tools — social, emotional, educational and livelihood training through literacy and life skills — making them less susceptible to harm.

With a spirit of staunch resilience and in collaboration with FH, Haitians have made many great strides in the past year, but there is much yet to be done. To join the reconstruction and help strengthen Haitian families and children, please consider joining Poverty 180.

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Related posts:

  1. Seven ways women and girls are especially vulnerable during emergencies
  2. BACK TO HAITI — Pushing back AIDS in the midst of an emergency
  3. BACK TO HAITI — Victories in clean water, health and hygiene
  4. BACK TO HAITI — What if your child's education cost 20-70% of your annual income? Would you still send him to school — could you?
  5. Breaking the bonds of child slavery

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