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By Lynn and Bob Gillen

Links for Learners | July 2001

Haitian Children in Bondage


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Links for Learning

Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:
Christian lifestyles—caring for the world's children; family life
Psychology—the needs of children; mental and emotional health; developmental psychology
Social studies—global citizenship; international politics

Finding Links for Discussion Group Leaders and Participants

Look for connections for use in programs outside the classroom, such as:

Parish sacramental preparation programs and CCD classes; young adult discussion programs; seasonal discussion groups; RCIA programs.
Parents will also find this material useful in initiating discussion around the dinner table, in home study, at family activities.

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for the key words and terms below as you read the article. Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself or from the resource materials cited throughout the Links for Learners. You can also find a list of terms on the glossary page of




Global citizenship

Social conscience

Child labor



The Enduring Shame of Slavery

We in the United States may be shocked to learn that slavery still exists in the world. Within our own nation we fought the Civil War to eradicate slavery. We further clashed with one another 100 years later during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s to ensure equal rights for all races. The United Nations, in its 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states, "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms." This month's article sadly informs us not only that slavery is still very much alive in the nearby Caribbean, but also that children are the ones enslaved.

The place is Haiti, ironically a country originally founded by former slaves. Europeans imported slaves from Africa to the Caribbean as early as the 16th century. An 1802 slave insurrection against their French owners led to the forming of the free country of Haiti.

Haiti is presently about 85% Catholic, with strong influences from Vodun (Voodoo, the African word for spirit). Although baptized as Catholics, many Haitians reverted to Vodun because there was no Catholic infrastructure in the country. Some scholars say that Vodun persists as a form of resistance to the forced conversion to European Catholicism and as a sign of ethnic pride. (See Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy by Kevin Bales.)

In this largely Catholic country, perhaps 300,000 enslaved children today struggle to survive. Jean-Robert Cadet, a man who was himself a child slave, wrote a book to bring this shameful practice to light. A Haitian child slave is called a restavec from the French reste avec (stay with). Parents struggling in extremely poor rural conditions send a child to stay with someone in the city in the hope of providing a better life for the child. Sometimes it works. More often it results in a life of slave labor.

Caring for the Children of the World

The abuses inflicted upon the children of our world are far too common. The slave conditions in Haiti break the bodies and the spirits of many thousands of youngsters. The orphanages in Romania warehouse infants and young children made parentless by civil strife. On television we channel-surf past the faces of starving children in Third World countries. The evening news all too often recounts another violent tragedy inflicted upon school-age children by adults.

The scope of the abuse, the numbers of children affected, are overwhelming. Beyond crying out in horror, what can we do?

On an immediate level, raising money to send to relief agencies always helps. Sponsoring a child at the Family Circle Boys Home in Haiti, for example, will provide schooling for boys fortunate enough to have escaped slavery. The Restavec Foundation also helps Haitian children start new lives.

Informing others of the situation increases public awareness. Circulate this article to your friends and teachers. Read some of the links and pass them on as well. You may want to donate a copy of Jean-Robert Cadet's book to your school or parish library.

Relief efforts fill an important need. However, taking a long-term perspective is critical if we are to effect change that will ensure the survival of our children and our society.

The future of our children is the future of our society. In The Irreducible Needs of Children, a pediatrician, T. Berry Brazelton, and a child psychiatrist, Stanley I. Greenspan, articulate what our society needs to survive. The authors begin by defining what every child needs in the first years of life. They identify a child's irreducible needs as:

  • The need for ongoing nurturing relationships

  • The need for physical protection, safety and regulation

  • The need for experiences tailored to individual differences

  • The need for developmentally appropriate experiences

  • The need for limit-setting, structure and expectations

  • The need for stable, supportive communities and cultural continuity

  • Protecting the future

  • Brazelton and Greenspan go on to examine the visible threats to our children's future: nuclear weapons, global warming, toxic substances, widespread diseases such as AIDS, biological weapons. None of these threats, however, compare to the basic need for a society to survive and give birth to new generations.

    The authors call for a previously unseen international cooperation in protecting the future of children in both developed and developing nations. Providing for the needs of all our children means producing citizens with a humane capacity for solving the world's shared problems.

    Who will these humane citizens be? People like you! Author Jedediah Purdy says that some of our leaders will be those who perform direct community service in homeless shelters, urban tutoring programs and Habitat for Humanity. These women and men will learn through their service to design better programs and build better schools. They may not be world-famous, Purdy says. Many will not be national figures. Some will be known only in their own communities, their own schools, their own parishes. Through effort and patience, however, they will become the strong leaders we need for our future. Anyone, he reminds us, can do this.

    For instance, at age 12, Craig Kielburger read a newspaper report in Canada about the murder of a former child laborer in Pakistan. Since then, Craig and his organization, Free the Children, have been working to free children from poverty, exploitation and abuse.

    Purdy also states that some of our leaders are being formed on college campuses. One group of students, for example, pressures college administrators nationwide to avoid buying school sweatshirts from companies that use sweatshop or child labor, manufacture in unsafe factories and pay poverty wages. Through local influences they impact national companies and international policies. Anyone can lead like this. Any one of us can impact society's future.

    Former soccer professional Jim Kneady and Leslie Kretzu, a human-rights activist, speak out against sweatshop practices through their organization The Living Wage Project. Kneady and Kretzu spent a summer living in solidarity on a $1.25 daily wage with Nike factory workers in Tangerang, Indonesia. Read about their experience.

    In Matthew 18:1, the disciples, no doubt jostling for position and rank, question Jesus about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus set a small child in front of them and offered an unexpected answer: "I tell you solemnly, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And so the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

    Print Resources

    The Irreducible Needs of Children, T. Berry Brazelton and Stanley I. Greenspan, Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000.

    Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Kevin Bales, University of California Press.

    Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American, Jean-Robert Cadet, University of Texas Press, 1998.

    Research Resources

    Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.

    The New York Times
    The Los Angeles Times
    Time magazine
    The Associated Press
    The Chicago Tribune
    People magazine
    The History Channel
    The Miami Herald
    The Close Up Foundation Washington, D.C.-based organization
    ABC News
    Channel One’s online resource
    The Vatican
    National Conference of Catholic Bishops
    The New American Bible
    Documents of Vatican II

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