In 2007, the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, estimated that there were 380,000 orphans in Haiti. But, this number is just a “rough” estimate. After the January earthquake approximately 320,000 lives were lost according to the Haitian government leaving thousands, potentially hundreds of thousands more “quake children” orphaned by the disaster. It is mind boggling to think of 500,000+ children in need. Even before the earthquake it was well known that one in every three children in Haiti dies by age 5.
In Haiti the term orphan applies not only to children who have lost their parents or been abandoned, it also refers to children left at orphanages on a temporary basis because their parents are burdened by hardships. It’s almost like a permanent daycare where the parents may visit their child but in no way contribute to the cost of caring for them. The responsibility for raising these kids is now in the hands of the orphanage, and while many have sponsors who provide ongoing financial assitance, there are dozens that are barely scraping by with donations and make shift housing conditions that are unconscionable.
To make matters worse, there are the restaveks, a bonded child domestic laborer, three-quarters of whom are girls. There are reportedly around 200,000 restaveks in Haiti. The children are given up by their destitute parents to urban families, where they live as domestic servants. Although some are well cared for, they are generally barred from attending school and physically or sexually abused. Many children run away and prefer living on the streets to living with their “adoptive” parents.
Finally, there are the most vulnerable children, those with disabilities. Handicapped children in Haiti are “shunned” by society and most of the time abandoned along the streets or left at a hospital to die. Without any belief these children can learn and be incorporated into society, the parents discard them as if it doesn’t matter. In all of Haiti there is only one school dedicated to children with disabilities.
For the Haitian children this is their world, their reality, and it must stop!