Guylande posing with some children.
Guylande Mésadieu

Guylande Mésadieu has been nominated for the World’s Children’s Prize for her fight for Haiti’s most vulnerable children: domestic slave children, street children and children in prison.

Some 225,000-300,000 children in Haiti live with a family that is not their own as restavèk. They are domestic slaves. They rarely go to school, and are beaten and sometimes sexually abused. When Guylande saw all the children who were forced to live on the street or as domestic slaves, she and her friends set up the organization Zanmi Timoun, Children’s Friend.

Since then, Guylande has been fighting for these vulnerable children for almost 20 years. Zanmi Timoun identifies domestic slave children, street children and children in pris-on, and helps them get a birth certificate and start school. Parents are given small loans to start their own small businesses or some other activity to help the family earn a little money so they don’t send their children away to be restavèk. There are lots of children in prison who haven’t had a trial and may be completely innocent. Zanmi Timoun helps get them out. At Zanmi Timoun’s schools, the children can do two grades in one year, as they start so late.

In the major earthquake in 2010, hundreds of thousands of children ended up on the street, and families who had lost everything sent their children to other families to work as domestic slaves. Zanmi Timoun helps a lot of these children.

Zanmi Timoun also wants to influence Haiti’s politicians. This has led to improvements like the adoption of a national law against trafficking and child abuse. The president appointed Guylande chairwoman of the committee that will make sure this new law is obeyed.

Lots of child slaves

Some 225,000-300,000 children in Haiti live with a family that is not their own to carry out household chores. The system is called restavèk in the Creole language. The word comes from the French rester avec, “to stay with”. Children who become restavèk come from poor families and their parents say they cannot afford to support them. Instead they give them away to other families, where they are fed in exchange for working as domestic servants. The work is often unpaid. The children rarely go to school, and are sometimes beaten and sexually abused. Child labour is prohibited in Haiti, but not in private homes. The UN is demanding that Haiti ban child labour in homes as well, and considers restavèk to be slave labour. The children are domestic slaves.

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