A restavek from the French language French reste avec, “one who stays with”) is a child in who is sent by their parents to work for a host household as a domestic servant because the parents lack the resources required to support the child. Restavek may refer to a child staying with a host family, but usually refers specifically to those who are abused.
The Créole term restavèk literally means someone who lives with another; however, in popular parlance the word is a pejorative reference to servile dependence and is categorically demeaning. Less pejorative synonyms of restavèk include timoun rann sèvis (children who render service), timoun rete kay moun (children living with others), or simply timoun (literally “child”) in which the connotation is one of an outside child rather than one’s own child (pitit or pitit zantray).
In Haiti, parents unable to care for children may send them to live with more affluent families. This is perceived as acceptable because in Haitian culture, it is ubiquitous for housing to be shared among members of an extended family, including distant relatives. (In contrast, the concept of a single nuclear family occupying each household is seen as desirable in other cultures.) Often these relatives are living in more urban areas. The children receive food and housing (and sometimes an education) in exchange for housework. However, many restavecs live in poverty, they might not receive proper education and sometimes, the child could be abused, beaten or raped. The United Nations considers restavec a “modern form of slavery”. (http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/01/29/haiti.restavek.sende.sencil/index.html)
A term for children staying with host families who are not abused by them is timoun ki rete kay moun (Kreyol for “child who stays in a person’s house.”)
Restavek are mostly young girls that are around the age of 9 and younger. However, there are still young males that are involved in this system as well. These young girls are born into poverty and they have suffered some type of mental, physical, and sexual abuse. They have no social or political voice, so they can not determine their futures. A lot of parents send their children to be restavecs thinking that they are going to live a better life, but a lot of times this is not the case. Children who are raised in a poor family or lose their parents become domestic workers in Haiti. (http://www.dol.gov/ILAB/media/reports/iclp/Advancing1/html/haiti.htm#.UIh7oMWHJ8E)
Restavecs are not paid for long working hours. They work in horrible conditions that are not good for their health. While at work many of the children suffer sexual harassment from their owners.
Restavecs are slave children who “belong” to well-to-do families. They receive no pay and are kept out of school. Since the emancipation and independence of 1804, affluent blacks and mulattoes have reintroduced slavery by using children of the very poor as house servants. They promise poor families in faraway villages who have too many mouths to feed a better life for their children. Once acquired, these children lose contact with their families and, like slaves of the past, are sometimes given new names for the sake of convenience.
A 2009 study by the Pan American Development Foundation found the following:
In general, leading indicators of restavèk treatment include work expectations equivalent to adult servants and long hours that surpass the cultural norm for children’s work at home, inferior food and clothing compared to other children in the home, sleeping on the floor rather than in a bed, no time out for play, and a common expectation that the restavèk child must use formal terms of address when speaking to social superiors including virtually all other household members. This expectation applies to restavèk relations to other children in the household, even children younger than the restavèk child, e.g., Msye Jak (“Mister Jacques” rather than simply Jacques).
Education is also an important indicator in detecting child domesticity. Children in domesticity may or may not attend school, but when they do attend, it is generally an inferior school compared to other children. Restavek children are also more likely to be average for their grade level, and their rates of non-enrollment are higher than non-restavèk children in the home.
For more background on the practice of child placement and the situation for unpaid domestic workers, restaveks, in Haiti see
Tone Sommerfelt (ed.) 2002 “ Les fondements de la pratique de la domesticite des enfants en Haiti FAFO 2002”, Fafo/ Ministère des Affaires
Sociales et du Travail. Life as a Child Domestic Worker in Haiti FAFO 2005