Over my past year as a CHRC Graduate Scholar, I have been exposed to the shocking reality that modern day forms child slavery and trafficking not only persist, but are also deeply entrenched in certain cultural practices around the world. As part of my own research on the topic, I came across an ABC report called “How to Buy a Child in 10 Hours,” which revealed the disturbing reality of child slavery in Haiti. Currently, there are over 300,000 slave children, called restaveks, who are often born in poor families, and then offered or sold to more affluent individuals, with the promise that they will be cared for and educated. Instead, most restaveks spend their days tirelessly cleaning, cooking, fetching water, running errands, and sleeping on hard floors. They are exploited for free labor, and regularly mistreated and abused by their owners. Child slaves in Haiti, and throughout the world, are perpetually exposed to unimaginable cruelty. Beyond being enslaved, they are denied an education, a human right that every child deserves.
It is estimated that over 150 million children are currently engaged in child labor worldwide. Child slavery, and the more contemporary legal term child trafficking, is defined as compelled or coerced labor of a child, or a child involved in a commercial sex act. Child slaves often (but not always) lack of opportunities for education and social mobility. In cases such as Haiti, poverty and the lack of educational opportunities are the main contributors to child slavery. Poor children are exploited for their ability to provide cheap and free labor, and their need to financially support themselves and their families. As child slaves, they are denied their right to basic necessities, such as adequate nutrition, healthcare, and education, and often subjected to frequent physical and/or sexual abuse.
Child labor is especially prevalent amongst populations of children who are out of school. UNESCO estimates that there are currently 263 million children out of school worldwide. Out of school children are often the most vulnerable and marginalized. They often come from poor families who are unable to afford school-related fees, and who live in remote regions where they have limited access to schools. Without access to an education, many poor children are left with few options for supporting themselves and their families.
In cases like Haiti, where there is extreme poverty, and very few schools, children and families may be convinced that child slavery as one of the only options their child has for a better life. Child slaves can carry the stigma of being unwanted by their families, and not valued by the caregivers. For such children, being educated in a safe and nurturing school environment means that the child can have access to the networks and resources they need for healthy development. Furthermore, by gaining the knowledge and skills needed to thrive, they can build self-esteem, confidence, and an awareness of their rights. For the world’s most vulnerable children, education can be a great source of empowerment, and one of the few avenues available to change their fate.
Gaining awareness about modern-day child slavery in Haiti has been both enlightening, and heart-wrenching. An all the more disturbing reality is that these injustices towards children are not limited to nations like Haiti, but happening all over the world. I do, however, feel inspired when I hear stories of former child slaves who were able to survive unimaginable cruelty, and to transcend their pain into empowerment for others facing similar circumstances. I also feel deeply saddened to know that children continue to live in such conditions.
We all have a part to play in the fight to end child slavery. As individuals, we can use our voices to raise awareness about this cruel and inhumane practice. As members of our local communities, we can unite to create and provide safe spaces for individuals affected by the practice. Furthermore, we can urge our leaders to bring an end to modern-day slavery by addressing the root causes of the issue. International leaders must uphold global anti-child slavery laws, and enforce stricter punishments for offenders. We as a community must work to ensure that all children, regardless of their geographical location or family income, should be afforded their right to a quality education.