Child slaves put Haiti second highest on new global slavery index
A new report from the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation has used an expanded definition of slavery to produce what it says is a first-of-its-kind look at the practice in the modern world.
In compiling the Global Slavery Index, researchers defined slavery as “the possession and control of a person … with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer, or disposal.”
Using that definition, slavery is not only alive and flourishing, but many of the estimated 29 million modern day slaves may be victims of forced or bonded labour; human trafficking, or may be children pressed into domestic or military service.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has not escaped the survey’s scrutiny, moreover, with three of its member states listed on the global index: Haiti, ranked second; Suriname, ranked 68th, and Guyana in 77th position.
“It would be comforting to think that slavery is a relic of history, but it remains a scar on humanity on every continent,” says Nick Grono, CEO of the foundation that produced the 2013 index, the first of a planned annual publication.
While nearly half of the world’s slaves live in India, the index ranked 162 countries according to the percentage of enslaved people in the general population. Western Africa’s Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan had the three highest rates of slavery, respectively, according to the index.
Mauritania’s 140,000 to 160,000 enslaved people fit more closely with the historical perception of slavery, but Haiti provides a different slant.
According to a report in The Christian Science Monitor, Haiti’s 200,000 to 220,000 enslaved people are mostly children who live with families not their own, working as household servants in the country’s complex and long-standing restavèk system.
Under restavèk (a Haitian Creole word derived from French meaning “one who stays with”), poor families send their children to live with a family of better means, usually in urban areas. The children are sent with the understanding that the family will clothe, feed, house and educate them in exchange for their work.
Once inside the new homes, however, “many of these children suffer the cruellest form of neglect – denied food, water, a bed to sleep in, and constant physical and emotional abuse,” the report says.
The group estimates that between 300,000 and 500,000 children are in a similar circumstance, according to information it gathered on the ground. It is unclear why they counted some, but not all, restavèk children as slaves.
There have been arguments against defining slavery so broadly, based partly on its historic significance.
In The Haitian Times last year, columnist Max Joseph wrote, “For Haitians, or any member of the African Diaspora for that matter, the word ‘slavery’ is distinctively associated with the transatlantic slave trade in which millions of Africans were forcibly uprooted from their villages and sold like domesticated animals in faraway lands.
“The notion of associating the restavèk phenomenon with slavery is a naked attempt at trivializing one of the most grotesque episodes in human history,” Joseph wrote.
In its report, the foundation says it’s important to focus on “hidden” enslaved people, such as restavèk children.
“Since hidden slaves can’t be counted it is easy to pretend they don’t exist. The Index aims to change that,” Kevin Bales, the lead researcher on the index, said in a statement.
The countries with the five highest rates of slavery are Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, India and Nepal.
The United States ranked 134th of 162.