Autobiography by Cadet Jean-Robert
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An autobiography by Cadet Jean-Robert, From Haitian slave child to middle class American, talks about a number of hardships he faced while living with a mistress of his father as a restavec. Restavecs are slave children owned by well-to-do families; they are mostly young girls of the age of nine or younger, however, young boys facing the same challenges can also be referred to as restavecs. They are usually sent to live with rich extended family members, where they are provided with shelter, food and clothing. In exchange, however, they work have to work as slaves doing all the domestic chores. Cadet (1998) observes that in Haiti, parents who cannot cater for their children can take them to live with another family that is well-off, as seen in the case of Cadet. These restavecs live in harsh conditions and are treated like slaves.
An adversity is a very difficult or unfavorable situation. The main adversity that children experience in this book, From Haitian slave child to a middle class American, is slavery. Slavery refers to the situation where individuals can be owned by other people. In cadet’s biography, parents who were not able to take care of their children usually took them to stay with a family that was financially stable. In exchange for their stay, the children did whatever they were asked to do without any objection. These slave children experienced harsh conditions, and as cadet (1998) says, one of the jobs he did was to scrub the rags that the woman he lived with used during her periods.
Despite working under such harsh conditions, slave children receive no pay after they are done with work. These rich families believe that the shelter, food and clothing they give to these children are enough and thus they require no pay. Cadet (1998) recalls that, some of the jobs he did are jobs that paid servants could not do, for example, scrubbing the rugs his father’s mistress used.
These slave children are also deprived of their right to education. Cadet says that the woman he lived with tried to keep him away from school, although he tried attending school from time to time. The day he attended school was the day he would get beatings from the woman (Florence). Restavecs were not allowed to go to school, and if they did they attended schools that were not of the same ‘level’ with those attended by the children of the rich families.
In cadet’s biography, he says that beatings were the order of the day. The slave children get punished for any wrong doing. Cadet would receive beatings for each time he wet the bed and anytime he went against what he was told to do. He says that he was severely whipped with a cow-hide, which was specifically meant for that purpose.
Other unfavorable conditions that slave children have to endure include working for longer hours that surpass the cultural norm. These children are made to sleep on cardboards and eat food that other children of the family would not eat. Cadet (1998) says that slave children also wore clothes that other children would not wear.
Slave children are always called names and being talked to in a rude way. In cadet’s biography, he says that Florence used abusive language when talking to him. For example, when he requested for permission to attend confession and communion, Florence says ‘you little shithead bed wetter, you little faggot, you little shoeshine boy…’ (Cadet 1998, Pg 197). Cadet also says that slave children were supposed to address their masters and their children in a specific manner; they had to use formal ways. All these adversities against slave children show how neglected children are in Haiti, and that slavery does exist despite lawful measures being set to avoid slavery.
Causes of Adversity
According to Cadet (1998), the major cause of slavery is poverty. He says that he was sent to live with one of his father’s mistress soon after his birth since his parents could not provide for his basic needs. A study done by the Pan American Development Foundation found that, most of the slave children are from very poor backgrounds. Their families send them to live with other well-off families who promise to provide the children with the best things in life. However, once the children are let go, they are turned into slaves. Poor families, on the other hand, consider this a better option for their children since they have other mouthfuls to feed. They feel that their children will get basic requirement when in these well off families than when they are with them.
Another cause of slavery, as portrayed in Cadet’s autobiography, is having children born out of wedlock. An illegitimate child will force a parent to send him or her to live with another family. Cadet was an illegitimate child, and hence his father had to send him to live with another of his mistresses. This shows that, bearing children out of wedlock was against the culture of the Haitians.
Culture also adds up as another cause of slavery in Haiti. As it is showed in the autobiography, parents in Haiti who cannot take care of their children are allowed to take them to other families, and this is acceptable in the Haitian culture. If their culture was against this form of child slavery, then it would have been a thing of the past.
Impunity is another cause of the increase in slavery in Haiti. Research shows that there exist laws that have been set by the government to protect human rights. These laws are violated by the same people that set them. If the people in power do not adhere to the laws, then other individuals will not follow the set laws. In order to ensure that the laws are followed, the people at the top should act as per the set laws so that other people can follow them.
Feasible Proposal and Program
One proposal of overcoming child slavery is setting laws that protect the rights of a child. The laws can include those that seek to curb child labor, which can be set to ensure that no child below the age of 18 is allowed to work as a slave. If this is implemented, then no individual will hire or take in a child and force them to work for them. The law should be enforced to ensure that whoever violates it will be dealt with accordingly, which will eventually serve as a warning to the rest.
The government of Haiti should form organizations that follow up on the lives of children who are adopted or poor children that live with their families. The officers appointed to the task should visit these children in their foster homes on a regular basis, and ensure that they are well taken care of without any right of their being denied. They should keep records that show the progress of these children, and also get to talk to them to ensure that they are comfortable at these homes.
As a government minister, I would propose free primary education at all levels of schooling. This will provide the poor with the opportunity of taking their children to school at no cost. Free education will reduce some of the expenses that a family would have incurred if they had to pay for the education of their children. Moreover, it ensures that children acquire knowledge and hence become aware of their rights, which will reduce or stop child slavery in the end.
Child slavery can also be avoided by building children’s homes, which will take in children who are orphans or those that do not have a place to call home. Building these homes will ease the burden of relatives of the orphans having to financially take care of their basic needs. Children’s home will provide shelter, food and clothing to these orphans and other disadvantaged children. Here children can enjoy their rights without being forced to work for anyone against their will.
Moreover, child slavery can be put to a stop if the government strives to create more job opportunities for its unemployed citizens. Creation of jobs will ensure that most families have a source of livelihood, thus they will be able to take care of their children and not send them to live with other families. This step will reduce child slavery because there will be a reduction in the poverty level, which has been the main cause of child slavery.
Other proposals that can be used to eliminate child slavery include educating the community on the consequences of child slavery and how it affects the slave child. Providing this relevant information to the families that send their children to live with other families will show how these children eventually become mentally and physically tortured, which then affects their adult life in future. These slave children will grow up lacking confidence, feeling unworthy and full of bitterness. The government should try to formulate programs where they donate food and other basic needs to the poor, which will ensure that these families have basic needs and thus they do not have to send their children to live with other family members. The government should also hire individuals who will gather information about the poor and their location so that they can distribute the food to them.
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