The IAWJ Held a Webinar in French About Children Working as Domestic Servants During the COVID-19 Pandemic

On June 12, 2020, the Magistrate’s School in Haiti (EMA), the State University of Haiti (UEH) and the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), with the support of the BEST program (Building a Solid Environment to Eradicate Human Trafficking), organized a webinar to discuss the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on children working as domestic servants in Haiti. The BEST program is led by the LUMOS Foundation and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Fifty-seven (57) law professionals, organizational representatives, and law students joined this activity to discuss this topic. According to Judge Maguy Florestal, Judge at the Court of Appeals of Port-au-Prince and Director of Studies of EMA, this was the first webinar hosted by EMA. The webinar aimed to present how the children who are working as domestic servants have been impacted during the period of COVID-19, to build greater awareness for magistrates, lawyers, and law students on the realities that child domestic servants face and to identify possible solutions to resolve this often abusive practice.

According to Kesner Thermesi, Av., Director of the Magistrate’s School in Haiti (EMA), the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), in collaboration with EMA, contributes to strengthening the magistrates and judicial actors at the national level. This initiative, which importance is undeniable, highlights the implementation of legal instruments relating to the protection of children. We cannot have a state grounded on the rule of law or a reliable democracy without the protection of those who will be ensuring the nation’s survival.

For Ms. Jane Charles-Voltaire, Senior Program Officer of the IAWJ, this activity falls within the context of the IAWJ’s work under the BEST program. This program aims to support the Haitian State and Civil Society in their actions to eradicate human trafficking. It will support law enforcement, the application of the law, and all efforts to force traffickers to be accountable while providing essential services to victims.

Judge Emmanuel Lacroix, Judge at the Court of Appeals of Port-au-Prince and former Investigative Judge at the Children’s Court of Port-au-Prince, explained that child domestic servitude in Haiti is as old as the country’s history. For now, there are no reliable statistics related to the number of children in domestic service in Haiti. However, the domestic child labor is an old cultural practice that has continued throughout the 20th century, and which led the legislators in 1961 and 1984 to introduce a chapter in the Haitian employment code relating to children in service, commonly known as children in domestic service and in the vernacular language “Restavèk”, which in French means “to stay with”.

In May 2003, a law on the prohibition and elimination of all forms of abuse, violence, ill-treatment, or inhuman treatment against children was promulgated. Since then, several texts have been adopted, including the 2014 counter-trafficking law, which identifies child domestic servitude as a potential form of trafficking in persons. Families that recruit children who have been in service for the past 60 years are often extremely poor, and often do not really have the means to meet their needs and to pay an adult for domestic work.

The Haitian State has undertaken only two major national educational programs for the protection of children in the last 10 years, which were focused on education and health. State funds in this area go mainly to IBESR for interventions in favor of children. Moreover, IBESR is also supported by small projects funded by some international NGOs.

Professor Jérôme Paul Eddy Lacoste is a social worker and Vice-Dean of Academic Affairs at the Faculty of Human Sciences of the University of Haiti. He is a specialist in population and development. Even though children are protected by a set of laws and legal instruments and public social institutions, for Professor Lacoste, the children in domestic servitude do not benefit from most of the rights mentioned in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) ratified by the Haitian State in 1994 and other Haitian laws. Maurice Sixto described the conditions of children in domestic servitude perfectly in his radio drama Ti Sentaniz.

In most cases, they are victims of abuse, violence, mistreatment, and neglect of all kinds. They do not even have access to the PRATIC digital platform set up by the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (MENFP).

In the majority of cases, they are victims of abuse, violence, ill-treatment, and neglect of all kinds. They do not even have access to the PRATIC miss digital platform set up by the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (MENFP).

Most of the problems faced by children in Haiti are often addressed by NGOs in the context of emergencies. However, still, there is a need to continue to train specialists on child protection matter in our country and integrate them into the institutions of the child protection chain and equip them properly. It is necessary to activate the child protection chain in Haiti to apply the legal provisions in this area.

The State must take the initiative to raise public awareness, ensuring the protection of these vulnerable children and prosecute abuse and exploitation.

You can watch the full video recording of the webinar here.