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Human Trafficking Center

More Than a Signature: Addressing the Ineffectiveness of International Law Curbing Child Trafficking in Haiti

24

Feb 2015

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By Lauren Jekowsky, HTC Associate

From ruthless military dictators to natural disasters and cholera outbreaks, the people of Haiti have historically been socially and economically crippled, resulting in its current standing as the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Because of Haiti’s dilapidated infrastructure, controversial cultural norms and economic strain, forced labor and child trafficking – specifically domestic servitude and agricultural labor – is embedded in the Haitian culture. Despite having signed numerous pieces of domestic and international legislation against such exploitation, Haiti has made few strides in combating trafficking and child labor exploitation.

In addition to being a signatory to the International Labor Organization Minimum Age Convention (1973) and the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labor (1999), Haiti has also passed legislation to protect children against exploitation. According to international and domestic standards, a child is considered to be working in an exploitative environment if he or she is younger than the minimum legal age, does not have a work permit within the legal age parameters, or if work conditions are hazardous. Under Haitian and international law, children between the ages of 15 and 18 can work legally if they obtain a work permit. While this may be true, child workers remain exploited because of the hazardous work environments. As such, international norms and Haitian domestic laws have had little effect on reducing child labor exploitation within the country.

In Haiti, reports indicate that children as young as five are being used for domestic work in homes they have been placed in by a recruiter. This practice, traditionally known as the Restavek system, was originally a cultural norm adopted by poor, rural family members who would send their children to live with wealthy, more economically stable family members in the city so they could gain better access to education and social services. Over time, the tradition has been reappropriated and used by poor Haitians living in cities who want to benefit from the free labor of children who are from even poorer rural areas. The Restavek system has developed into a recruitment system where children are not given the opportunities traditionally offered but rather are forced to be domestic workers.

Recently, Inner City Fund International conducted a research project for the U.S. Department of Labor gathering qualitative data about the prevalence and conditions of child labor, educational statistics and demographics of children in the agricultural sector. Overall, children involved in this sector are working to supplement family income or assist family in work, indicating a societal and economic reliance on child labor. The two largest violations of international and domestic law this study revealed include the young age in which children enter the work force and their hazardous working conditions. Most notably, children under the minimum working age have reportedly been exposed to prolonged sunlight, pesticides, sharp tools and long work hours.

To effectively address child labor exploitation, including the Restavek system, the Haitian government (with assistance from the international community) must institute programs aimed at addressing the social, economic, and cultural strains that exacerbate this phenomenon. Practically, the Haitian government must improve its education system and develop jobs that foster a more stable economy for biological and host parents. This will subsequently reduce the stress of poverty and the immediate impulse of families to resort to using children as laborers.  Finally, the international community must assist Haiti in an active and effective manner – one that goes beyond simply applying pressure for the signing of international laws.

 

Photo: Via Creative Commons

 

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