For years, Marie Alina Cajuste did not know her real name. The family she worked for in Haiti called her Ti Bebe, or Little Baby.
She shared her experience as a restavec at a day-long conference about human trafficking at Broward College Thursday.
“It’s slavery,” she said. “I couldn't sleep in the same house with the family, I was the first person to wake up and buckets of clothes waiting for me to wash by hand.”
The underground restavec community is a long-held practice in Haitian culture where mostly poor rural families will send their children to live with families of better means. In exchange for hosting the child and paying for schooling, which is usually the promise, the children perform domestic work.
But in reality, restavec children end up in unpaid domestic servitude situations where they are often abused and denied some of their most basic rights.
The Haitian government enacted its first anti-human trafficking law last year.
It outlaws forced labor or servitude, sexual exploitation and forced begging. It also labels restavecs as trafficked people for the purpose of exploitation.
Smith Maxime, Haiti director for Free the Slaves, an international nonprofit, on Thursday said the law is a start toward criminalizing those who perpetuate modern-day slavery.
“Before 2014, you couldn’t pursue a person for human trafficking because this concept did not exist in the law,” he said at Thurday’s conference.
But he added there’s still a lot more work to be done in Haiti. Judges, police officers and the general public now have to be educated about Haiti’s new anti-human trafficking law.