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Jean-Robert

Jean-Robert Cadet, a former child slave in Haiti, confronts the problem of freedom. The slave experience is not over for him: “nightmares…haunt me well into my adulthood…the trauma lasts a lifetime.” His childhood can “never be recovered,” and he will “feel its absence for the rest of my life.” The narrative quotes his wife’s observation that sometimes the “reality from decades ago is up on us again."As a restavek (Creole for “stay with”), Jean-Robert was one of thousands of Haitian children who are sent by their poor rural families to stay with wealthier families. Supposedly they will be treated like one of the family and enrolled in school, in exchange for domestic labor. But this rarely happens. Instead they work 14 hours a day for no compensation and are frequently abused. Slavery was supposedly abolished in Haiti after the revolt of 1794-1804, when African slaves fought and overthrew their French masters, and declared the colony of Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispaniola an independent republic. But as Haiti’s economy collapsed, and the country became the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, the restavek system exploded. The Haitian government estimates that 90,000-120,000 children are enslaved as restaveks, but the UN puts this number at 300,000—or one in ten children in Haiti. Some are as young as four years old, and 75 percent are girls, many of whom are sexually exploited.