I just finished reading Thomas Hardy’s novel, Tess of the d’Ubervilles, which left me in silent late-night shock when I turned the final pages. As my friend and fellow Food for the Hungry blogger Eileen said, “It’s not Jane Austen. It doesn’t wrap up happily in the end.” (No spoilers here, you’ll have to read it yourself.)
Four chapters into the story, the poverty-stricken Durbeyfield family starts talking about sending their beautiful daughter Tess as a supplicant to the matronly scion of a wealthy family, whom they believe to be a long-lost relative. Tess’s mother starts dreaming even before consulting her daughter:
“….well, Tess ought to go to this other member of our family. She’d be sure win the lady — Tess would; and likely enough ‘twould lead to some noble gentleman marrying her. In short, I know it.”
Tess’s father dreams of titles and her little brother dreams of the rich relatives giving them a ride in their expensive carriage. They imagine heaven on earth for their long-suffering family.
Heaven or hell?
My thoughts while reading this were far from heaven, however. I saw an impending hell for Tess and found myself mentally screaming, “No! Don’t do it!” as I read the family’s seemingly innocuous conversation. I could see the sad ending looming in Chapter Four.
This conversation and its deadly consequences still happen in homes worldwide, not just in Victorian novels.
There is a road in eastern Haiti, a path really, that leads over the border to the Dominican Republic. When I was there two years ago, I snapped a photo of several children and teens walking down that road after church, donning their lovely Sunday best. The staff member with me said, “That’s one of the main roads that child traffickers use.” My heart chilled in my chest. The Haitians call these trafficked children restaveks, which euphemistically means “rest with.” On the surface they exchange manual labor for promises of a “rest” in a comfortable house, food, clean water and an education. In reality it’s abuse.
Somewhere, right now, a family is repeating the Durbeyfields’ words in Haitian Creole and hundreds of other languages worldwide. They’ll take care of her. They’ll take care of us, too. She’ll have access to rich men. Do they think of what the men will do to her, in exchange? Perhaps, but sadly they may think that’s what little girls are made for.
I know of Food for the Hungry staff fighting this attitude about girls every day, and making sure families see they have better options than subjecting their kids to horrific abuse. Please keep them in your prayers.
If you know someone who’s vulnerable, if you know someone engaged in the fight to help parents see that God created their daughters (and sons) for something much better, consider listing them in a comment for our community to say a prayer (first names only, please, God knows who they are).