15,000 Haitians Gather to Fight Child Slavery
Restavek Freedom’s Songs for Freedom competition draws massive crowds to promote freedom and protection of children across the island nation
Port-au-Prince, Haiti (July 23, 2017) – Fifteen thousand people gathered in the nation’s capital for the finale of “Songs for Freedom,” a singing contest developed by Restavek Freedom, based in Port-au-Prince and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Promoting freedom and protection for children, this competition crisscrossed Haiti over the past year, holding 10 regional competitions in each “department,” or state. NPR described this competition, now in its second season, as “Haiti Idol.”
“The Songs for Freedom event brought together singers, community members and national leaders to support the freedom movement in Haiti,” said Joan Conn, executive director of Restavek Freedom, which is a grassroots coalition of organizations, churches, and communities within Haiti who are coming together to protect children and end the abuses found in the restavek system.
To compete, contestants wrote original songs about the issue of “restavek,” a system in Haiti which the U.N. labeled modern-day child slavery affecting one in fifteen children. The winners from each regional competition participated in the finale, bringing with them supporters and fans. These crowds arrived by the busload, often organized by mayors, pastors, and community leaders.
Judges included U.S. musician Gordon Mote and Haitian-American artist Freedom. Majorie Evie Frédéric, from Nippes, received the grand prize. The event drew praise from the President of Haiti’s Human Trafficking Committee as well as Haitian senators, and mayors.
The theme was, “Stand up for a Haiti without restavek.”
One attendee was so uncomfortable during the competition she left her family. When the family went looking for her, she was in tears, screaming out, “Oh God please, forgive me; I can’t stand it anymore. I will change and will no longer mistreat her.”
When Restavek Freedom’s team tried to find out what was happening, the family explained she had a child living with her since the child was 2 years old. The child is now 13 and had never attended school. The next day, the woman went to register the child for school.
“Children in restavek are most often sent from impoverished rural homes to live and labor for urban families,” Conn said. “Poor parents are lured into sending their children into restavek by the promise of education and care for their child. However, many of these children never go to school and instead experience isolation, exploitation and abuse where they work.”
Far from home and cut off from any support networks, children in restavek have no alternatives and are forced to stay in this modern-day form of slavery.
Approximately 300,000 children in Haiti under the age of 15 are in the institution of restavek. Restavek Freedom has been working more than a decade on this issue, planting the seeds for this movement. Their work to free children includes providing education to children in restavek and advocating for their care, removing them from the worst instances of abuse, and working with the police and government to protect children.
By engaging and educating families and national awareness campaigns such as Songs for Freedom and their immensely popular radio drama, Zoukoutap, they are reaching millions of Haitians with their message.
As a result of the competition, Restavek Freedom’s Director of Mobilization, Jean Bilda Robert, and the top contestants were invited to Parliament to hold talks on how to further propel the movement with the government’s help.
“We know this system of Restavek can end,” explained Conn. “While there is much work to do in order to capitalize on the growing momentum, we believe a groundswell is building here that mirrors what we lived through in the U.S. during the civil rights movement. People are beginning to believe change is possible, and we are so excited for all those who are joining with us to end the restavek system in Haiti in our lifetime.”
To learn more about Restavek Freedom and Songs for Freedom, visit www.RestavekFreedom.org.