“If my mother and father were alive I would be protected. They wouldn’t let me live like this.”
These are the words of Lovely*, a shy 14-year-old who is a child domestic worker. Myrlande, my counterpart in Haiti, is translating her words into English. She’s visibly shaken by the story. But Lovely* is very matter of fact; it’s obvious that she doesn’t think her situation is uncommon. It is simply what life has handed to her.
I’ve returned to Haiti five years on from the devastating 2010 earthquake, which killed over 230,000 people and left two million homeless. The rubble that once lined the street of Port au Prince is mostly gone, and the collapsed buildings have been rebuilt. But everywhere you look, there are young lives that have been shattered by the earthquake, and their scars – both physical and emotional – are still visible.
Children ‘virtually living as slaves’
Domestic child labour is a major problem in Haiti, with up to 225,000 children aged between five and 17, mainly girls, virtually living as slaves.
Lovely* tells us that she’s regularly beaten and there are frequently days when she isn’t fed. She wakes up at 5am, prepares the household meals, fetches water from the local well, and does all the cleaning and laundry. Did I mention that she is just 14 years old?
She continues. “I don’t even go to school. I used to go to school, I got to the third grade but ever since my mum and dad died I never went back to school. I would like to become someone tomorrow, although I don’t know what. I want to tell other children in the same situation, those children like me that don’t have a mother, that don’t have a father just like me, not to be discouraged because life is like a ball – it rolls and rolls and you never know where it’s going to take you.”
Awe for our community workers
In Haiti, Save the Children is working at the national level to raise awareness about child abuse, and at the local level, in partnership with child protection organisations to eradicate this practice. We continue to support schools as well, providing teacher training and supplies and doing everything we can to ensure more children get the chance of a brighter future that education can provide.
And our community workers provide safe spaces and child protection clubs for the thousands of displaced children growing up in camps, and living in fear of armed gangs and sexual abuse. I spent a day in one of these camps, and left full of awe for our community workers working with these children and creating such resilient young leaders.
I want to promise Lovely* and the other children I met on my visit that we will continue to be there for them. But now that cameras and reporters have gone, and funding has dried up, I can’t help remembering an overused line from NGOs five years ago. “Don’t forget Haiti,” we said in unison. Have we?
Sarah visited Haiti with Save the Children Italy. Photographer Riccardo Venturi’s photos of the visit can be seen here.
* name changed to protect identity