Haiti's Dark Secret: The Restavecs

Servitude Crosses the Line Between Chores and Child Slavery

Gigi Cohen and Josiméne, 10

Josiméne, 10, and photojournalist Gigi Cohen. Gigi Cohen/The Photo Project hide caption

itoggle caption Gigi Cohen/The Photo Project

Haiti, a nation of only eight million people, is home to some 300,000 restavecs -– young children who are frequently trafficked from the rural countryside to work as domestic servants in the poverty-stricken nation's urban areas.

Parents send their children away, often to wealthy looking strangers, hoping that they will be fed and educated in exchange for performing domestic work.

As poverty and political turmoil in Haiti increases, human rights observers report that the number of restavecs continues to rise dramatically.

Documentary photographer Gigi Cohen spent a month in Haiti photographing Josiméne, a 10-year-old restavec. Cohen's is one of 11 stories that are part of Child Labor and the Global Village: Photography for Social Change, a project of The Tides Center and Julia Dean & Associates.

Cohen's month with Josiméne evolved into more than a simple assignment –- the two forged a close relationship. Freelance producer Rachel Leventhal asked Cohen if, in addition to her photographic assignment, she would also make recordings for the radio. Using Cohen’s recordings, she tells Josiméne's story.

Josiméne lives in a two-room cinderblock house outside of Port-au-Prince. Her parents, who have seven other children, are small farmers in Haiti's remote and mountainous heartland.

Among her other duties, Josiméne cares for two younger children, cleans the house, washes dishes, scrubs laundry by hand, runs errands and sells small items from the family's informal store. She has lived this way for over two years, since she was seven. It has been over six months since she has seen her family.

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