Restavec : From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American

Jean-Robert Cadet :


The Face Behind The Mask

From the ashes of the institution of slavery rose Haiti in 1804, the first black republic in the western hemisphere. Soon after, the same former slaves who had unchained themselves, reinstituted a new kind of slavery. Under the pretext of caring for destitute children, the former slaves chained these children in the worst kind of servitude that they themselves had experienced. These slave children are called restavec, a French word that means "staying with". They are deprived of all humanities and basic education, and brutalized worse than the slaves of the past because the supply seems unlimited, and they have no monetary value.

These slave children sleep on rags or cardboard. They go to bed late and wake up early, and are forced to do the work that the paid servants will not do. Today, there are approximately 250,000 restavec children in Haiti, lost human resources that the country will never recover, and who will never have the opportunity to become productive member of Haitian society. Despite laws that have been created under the pressure of human rights organizations, Haiti continues to hide child slavery behind the mask of restavec. And the laws are often violated by the very people who helped write them.

As a former restavec, I came to the United States at the age of fifteen to resume my restavec status in the home of my former "masters." When they realized that the restavec system was not conducive to American society, I was shown the door to fend for myself in the streets of New York. In Restavec, my autobiography, published by the University of Texas Press, I show the faces of the restavec children behind the mask. I vividly describe my childhood in restavec servitude as well as my subsequent life in the Unites States, where, despite American racism, I put myself through college and found success in the United States Army and in business. Today I am a high school teacher in Ohio.

May this book serve as a testament to show that even the destitutes have the potential to become productive members of their society, and I sincerely hope that the readers of this book will persuade their government to abolish child slavery wherever it exists.

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