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Thursday, February 4, 2010

What Pushes Haitian Parents To Give Up Their Kids

Understanding Haiti: Haitian Adoptions, Restavek Creation Phenomenon, and Sponsorships:

The case of the 10 American Baptist missionaries who were caught crossing the Haitian border with the Dominican Republic with 33 Haitian children illustrates what many Haitians have known for many years. Parents who are unable to take care of their offspring often resort to giving them up or placing them with well-to-do or well-off families around them or in the capital. Usually, the parents know and trust the people who will care for their children. These parents were dealing with two extremes. Either they keep taking care of their children with the knowledge that these kids may not have the best education, enough food to eat and may end up growing up with no possibility of earning a living or they give them up to somebody who will provide for their needs. In many cases, some Haitians will make the difficult choice of letting them go to a better life. These cases are not to be confused with the cases of abandoned children seen in most first-world or developed countries such as the United States of America, Canada, France, Germany and others. The parents still want to be part of their kids' lives. It is mostly a survival tactic based on true economic, financial assessments. In the case of orphanages functioning in Haiti, these kids are sure to find shelter and food to eat. They live in the orphanage even though their parents are still alive. Orphanages in Haiti are not only for kids whose parents truly died. They also exist for the kids whose parents are alive but unable to care for them due to abject poverty, lack of financial resources and whereabouts, and education. That is why we push sponsorship of these kids who will continue to live with their parents who receive a monthly stipend to provide for their own family. Now, the true orphans and the kids whose parents were not involved in their upbringing can be taken to orphanages. The continued failure by Haitian authorities to provide for these children in well-regulated and monitored group homes gave rise to the phenomenon of "Haitian Street Children." Stung by the motivation to survive and the needs to meet their primary, basic needs, they resort to begging on street corners and doing odd jobs in the capital and other major cities of the country. Their survival instinct takes over. Just like many Haitians, these kids are trying to make ends meet. They are working for their daily bread, daily meals. The Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake destroyed everything for most Haitians including these kids. They become the traditionally most desperate among the new group of desperate, shelterless and Haitian poor. The cycle of poverty has just reached some deeper levels. Poor or rich, most parents would like their kids to surpass them and know success.

According to Unicef, "Children unaccompanied by adults, including orphans and those sent by their parents to live with more affluent relatives or strangers, run a greater risk of being abducted, enslaved, abused, sold or trafficked because of the lack of security in the wake of last month's devastating earthquake..."

Socio-economic, Historical, Cultural Components:

It is appropriate to give some background information on Haitian Restavek (literally those who stay with or live with a well-off family member or stranger). In most cases, the Haitian kids who are placed with well-off families do not always take good care of them. These kids do not eat with the rest of the family, yet they are expected to do all the heavy-duty labor. They remind me of the "Fisherboys" kids shown on Oprah Winfrey show. Members of the family with whom these kids live often end up exploiting them, abusing them and doing anything less than raising them to become outstanding and contributing citizens later on. In most Haitians' minds, the word "Restavek" connotes or identifies kids who are on their last luck or are given a last chance. Not all restavek receive the same treatment from their new or de facto parents. Birth or biological parents take this alternative after weighing all their options in their efforts to provide a better life for their children. Unfortunately, many bad individuals take advantage of this willingness to let go of the kids. Restavek is a Haitian creation to fill in the voids and the needs for proper supervising agencies left unmet by Haitian authorities. With no education, vocational training, social services (welfare, pregnant women benefits, social security) to fall back on and no remittances from family members living overseas, the unemployed, illiterate Haitian parents may resort to a family member or complete stranger living in the capital to provide what they can not give to their children. This may explain why some of the parents of the 33 Haitian children are resurfacing. All along, they were around but were unable to take care of their children. Obviously, their stories are different from those of the Baptist leader who said that these kids were given to them by distant family members.

Church-based Schools: Catholic Schools and Mission Schools and Orphanages.

When well executed, the Restavek creation takes the place of sponsorship and adoptions in the minds of most Haitians. Restavek persists because of the high rate of unemployment, illiteracy, historically dire financial conditions which lead to poverty. All restavek are not orphans. There are more restavek cases than Haitian adoptions. Adoptions by families living in the US, Canada, Netherlands, France and other countries may take time before they get approved by the judge and Haitian authorities. Any well-intentioned individual can obtain the right permit and license to run an orphanage in Haiti. Haitian authorities know the kids are living and being cared for. Taking the kids across border without the right paperwork is highly discouraged and may result in a lot of headaches and frustration. Nobody wants or has to be jailed for wanting to help desperate children. Despite the devastation and chaos in Haiti, Haitian authorities want to send out a strong message that the country is not a free for all. They want to down on potential traffickers. Evangelistic groups erecting churches in Haiti usually run schools and orphanages. The Catholic Sisters and Brethren are good examples of this. Over the years, they have invested heavily in education in Haiti. Les Freres Salesiens (Salesian Brothers) and various other convents probably have the best private schools to which most Haitian parents want to send their kids. The situation is worse when all or most of these Christian denominations and missions facilities suffered severe damage or were destroyed by the quake and persistent aftershocks. (Some of them may still have countless children trapped underneath piles of debris). We must add that only a small group is able to afford to attend these private institutions.

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