Slavery in Haiti

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Nov 21 07:44:25 MST 2003

LA Times, Nov. 21, 2003
A Nation Loses Its Childhood

In Haiti, 200 years after a successful slave rebellion, thousands of rural 
children work for the urban poor for no wages and little else.

By Carol J. Williams, Times Staff Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Madeleine Vilma describes the beating that drove 
her to the streets as if she deserved it.

"I made them mad at me," the skinny 15-year-old recalls of the two women 
who had paid a pittance for her six years ago and then put her to work as a 
maid. "I broke the heel off my shoe, so they beat me with their sandals."

Their anger not fully vented, the women she called Auntie and Maman then 
singed her chest and arms with jolts from a frayed electrical cord, 
Madeleine recounts, nervously rocking and shifting her legs, stork-like, at 
the memory.

"They wanted to mark me so that I would remember."

Dispatched to the slums of the Haitian capital when she was 9 by parents 
unable to feed her, Madeleine had been delivered by a trader into a life of 
unpaid domestic servitude in exchange for food and shelter. Like an 
estimated 300,000 other children in this poorest of Western countries, she 
had no alternative except homelessness and hunger.

Foreign relief workers and Roman Catholic charities lately have been 
encouraging Haiti's child slaves to come out of the shadows to seek help — 
and to expose a century-old practice that has subjected them to shocking 
abuse. Their growing numbers have prompted questions about whether the 
world's only successful national slave rebellion 200 years ago was really a 

As Haiti approaches the Jan. 1 bicentennial of its independence from French 
colonial rule, the plight of child slaves is threatening to overshadow 
official celebrations. It is also a measure of this ravaged country's 
progress in the two centuries since the slave rebellion.

"How can we be celebrating the bicentennial when this is still going on?" 
says Father Pierre St. Vistal, sweeping his hand to take in the barefoot, 
scarred and ragged children huddled around the doorway of his overwhelmed 
mission. "How can we as Haitians celebrate anything when our kids are on 
the streets, dying of hunger? This isn't a time for celebration but for 
being ashamed."


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