Slavery has been illegal in Haiti longer than anywhere else. Yet the enslavement of children as domestic servants through the restavek system of child trafficking continues to plague the nation. The Walk Free Global Slavery Index estimates more than 209,000 Haitians are in slavery today, many of them children. That makes it the world’s second-worst hot spot for per-capita slavery.
But there is good news to tell. Haiti’s parliament and president have recently enacted a new anti-trafficking law.
”After about a decade of effort, we finally have an anti-trafficking law in Haiti,” says FTS Haiti Coordinator Smith Maxime. “It is an important milestone,” he adds, “but we have a long road ahead to get this law implemented. A national committee against human trafficking has to be formed. Law enforcement officers have to be trained and the public has to be informed about the new infraction.”
The FTS blog asked researcher Torrie Higgins to explain various components of the law and their significance.
What does the new legislation outlaw?
The new Haitian law defines the term “trafficking in persons” as the recruitment, transportation, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or through the use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of authority or by a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation. This legislation outlaws many forms of trafficking in persons which includes forced labor or servitude, exploitation of prostitution of others or pimping, pornography or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced marriage or marriage for exploitation, forced begging, collecting of organs or tissue and adoption for the purpose of exploitation. The law also states that the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a child or the hosting of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered “trafficking in persons” even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in the first definition, with “child” meaning any person under the age of 18 years.
How does this law confront restavek slavery?
By defining the existence of “trafficking in persons” for minors as exploitation of any variety against those who are under 18 years of age, the law recognizes a person’s inherent vulnerability because of their minor status without the burden of proof on the use of force, fraud or coercion. This confronts restavek slavery in that minors are shown as naturally vulnerable, unable to give their voluntary consent to labor and easily put into a position of exploitation. For those who have reached the age of 18 within restavek slavery, this law also add protections through the definition of “servitude” as the submission status or a condition of dependency of a person unlawfully forced or coerced by a person providing a service to an individual or others, and who has no other alternative than to provide such service, with the law directly including domestic services
How will the law be enforced and what is the punishment for violators?
A national committee attached to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor Security has been formed to specifically coordinate the fight against trafficking by preventing and combating trafficking in all its forms and guaranteeing the protection of victims. Committee members are appointed by presidential order with the task of developing and proposing public policy, ensuring comprehensive victim services, ensuring the mobilization of resources including a special fund to finance operations and victim services, develop guidelines and procedures for identifying victims of trafficking, raise public awareness and intensify efforts to coordinate with countries that are identified as origin, transit and destinations of human trafficking. Punishment for those convicted of trafficking in persons (also including the confiscation of personal documentation and passports linked to trafficking in persons) includes 7 to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 gourdes (Approx. $4,400 USD) to 1.5 million (Approx. $33,000 USD). Punishment for a person who obtains or attempts to obtain the sexual services of others knowing that it is a victim of trafficking is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 gourdes (Approx. $1,100 USD) to 100,000 gourdes (Approx. $2,200 USD). Those persons who are convicted of even attempting to commit any of these offenses shall be punished by a term of three to eight years imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 gourdes (Approx. $1,100 USD) to 200,000 gourds (Approx. $4,400 USD). The law also provides for punishment of life imprisonment for those violations that are deemed particularly heinous (such as rape) or committed against those who are particularly vulnerable such as minors, the elderly, or those with a physical or mental impairment.
What will happen to restavek children in a home if a homeowner is charged and arrested under this new law?
The law does not lay out specifics for those restavek children taken from a home where the homeowner is arrested under the new law; however the National Committee is tasked with ensuring that social services are implemented and research is conducted regarding family reintegration in the child’s best interest. The law also provides broadly for the psychological, medical and social assistance for victims of trafficking in persons, as well as legal and interpretation services when necessary and the specific needs in education for children.
Are there still gaps in Haitian law that need to be addressed to end restavek child domestic slavery?
While the new Haitian law sets out a clear understanding of the crime of trafficking in persons and the potential punishments for perpetrators of this crime, it is still unclear how the National Committee will implement prevention and awareness campaigns, as well as how victim services will be executed. It is also, unclear on how to deal with children who are currently in servitude.
Comprehensive victim services require a strong infrastructure to ensure the physical safety of victims through law enforcement, the psychological safety and recovery of victims through health services, and employable skills, education and basic housing and needs of victims through social services. If a victim is not properly reintegrated into society then there is the possibility that the individual will be placed in a situation of exploitation and trafficking in persons again due to their continued situation of vulnerability.
What is being done to educate the public about the new law?
The law has just published by the President of Haiti in June 2014.There is not yet campaign to educate the public. The National Committee is tasked with launching awareness programs to inform the public, especially potential victims of trafficking in persons, on the dangers of practices leading to trafficking although specifics are not available as to what these awareness programs will look like and how the public will be best reached.