This article chronicles the journey of a Haitian child, Marilaine, in her transition from restavek and the resulting reintegration into normal life. One of 12 children, Marilaine was 10 when her father abandoned her in the capitol after experiencing the financial burden of keeping her enrolled in school. Marilaine experienced severe physical and emotional distress as a result of her imprisonment. However, she maintained that she was allowed to attend school and was provided an adequate diet. One member of the community commented that routine beatings were a normal part of Haitian culture; corporal punishment is not synonymous with mistreatment.
Marilaine was rescued from the household by Restavek Freedom Foundation, and, after a brief stay at a safe house in the city, was reunited with her family. The reunion did not go smoothly; her family was not eager to see her, and they were unable to provide the level of education she had received while in the city. She longs to return to the safe house in order to continue her education, but the police determine that she should remain with her parents in the country.
Marilaine’s story highlights many aspects of restavek that we must consider with our project. For many Haitians, the restavek system is not as clean cut or as easily defined as we might perceive it; the use of physical abuse is not a bizarre or unaccustomed concept to Haitians as it may be to us. Second, this article posits that the systems that allow restavek to exist are not removed with the rescue of a child slave – it continues to exist and sometimes prevents the successful reunification of families affected by restavek. Third, the community resistance to rescue and reunion is probably not a unique feature in this story. Restavek is a complicated issue and cultural sensitivity is necessary if we hope to achieve any sort of change to the system of restavek on a deeper level.