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July 14th, 2009
07:13 AM ET

A capacity for cruelty is never justified

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="A 2006 picture of housing conditions in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere."]

Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

Over the last couple days, I have been in Haiti, spending my time walking around with an adorable young gal named Deena. She is 15 years-old, and was born and raised in Haiti.

Within minutes of meeting her, there were things that were impossible not to notice. Her clothes were ragged and clearly too small for her. She hardly ever smiled, and if she did – it was fleeting and purse-lipped. She didn’t look me in the eyes, and in fact spent most of the time staring at the ground.

Her voice was weak, and, her body was frail. When I touched her back, I could feel a hollow space. As part of her introduction, I was told Deena was a Restavek, which in Creole means to “stay with.” Our guide Jean Robert Cadet was more blunt. “Make no mistake,” he said. “She is a child slave.”

Strong words, I thought. I wanted to see for myself and that is why I found myself in a shanty town outside Port au Prince, Haiti at 5 a.m. this past Sunday. It was already well over 90 degrees and there was no breeze whatsoever. We were soaking in our shirts just standing there, which makes what I began to see that much harder to imagine.

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Filed under: Haiti
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Jean F Colin

    Haiti is an international crime scene –300 years of slavery and 200 years of isolation and unhumane misery as an" independent nation" because we dare to free our people, dislocated Africans enslaved in the Americas. We wan the battle against slavery in 1804. The domestic abuses injustly suffered by the kids and the extreme level of poverty that most of Haitian families have to cope with are the by products of a disfunctional society of maroons created by the slave trade and very similar to the black ghettoes that the white societies created in their own nations.
    Now that CNN has visited Haiti, the western societies "lost slave ship" and its old and disfigured and disoriented "citizens", I look forward to your follow up story as we look and search for a port where we can end this miserable journey that started so long ago from Goree Island in West Africa.that President Obama visited recently with his innocent daughters.
    I sincerely hope that we show as much humanity, fairness and justice for the whole nation of Haiti as our kids, the restaveks deserve.
    What Dr Gupta withnessed in Haiti was poverty, unhuman misery not slavery. The slave owners in Haiti were sent to hell a long time ago during our proud struggle for indepence.

    July 26, 2009 at 12:14 pm |
  2. antonina

    I have been reading the commnets for several days now. I am not Haitian nor American but I do live in Haiti for over three Years.

    Stop blamming CNN or Usa. You Haitian people did it your self. Here nothing seems to help so much coruption greed and not to speak for uneducation people.

    here in Hiaiti only rich people can survive. The rich people treat the poor once terribly. Can you imagine they got paid 50$ a month with 12 hrs working and no days off.

    As about slavery yes thats true they do have it in a large amount.
    Dont blam anybody for your failure.As about your beautiful beaches take a second look on them, forget about turist to came here oh no no. you are not even to walk what do you haitina people think that the world will fix you NO NO.

    I see to many comments from people that live outside Haiti isnt that ashame that non of you came back in your country and try to work here but you have to make cooments like thats not try

    CNN even didnt put all the dirt that Haiti holds and please do not compare prostitution with slevery that you have in Haiti

    You are just the worse lazy people in the world. Please take responsibility for your own country

    I really feel sad for people that I know here and that the future dosnt hold anything better for them

    July 22, 2009 at 9:48 am |
  3. M Leconte

    Why doesn’t Sanjay Gupta report on the IMF and the World Bank, which have loaned money to Haiti at really high interest knowing that its corrupted governments would pocket it all?

    Why don’t CNN report on how no one would trade with Haiti after its independence from France in 1804 since all other countries around it had slaves?

    Why don’t CNN analyze on how the west encourage dictatorship in Haiti to ensure that there would be no Bay pf Pigs there?

    Better yet why don’t CNN produce a piece on American farmers destroying the Haitian economy by dumping their products on the country which they can afford to sell at a really low price since they are subsidize by their government.

    All of the above and MORE contribute to Haiti being the poorest country in the Americas. All of the above contribute at this little girl having to work because her parents cannot afford to feed her or clothe her.

    July 21, 2009 at 10:49 pm |
  4. Jackie

    I cannot get that little girl Deena out of my mind. The poor child and apparently so many like her are never allowed to be children and are treated so terribly. What can I do to help? This may not be helpful, but I would like to put her "aunt" on a cheese grater.

    July 20, 2009 at 6:35 pm |
  5. Carol Pierre

    As a Haitian-American, I am convinced that we are in total denial of the self hatred and self loathing we have for ourselves and as a people. Haitians are entrenched in a class (caste) system both in Haiti and the U.S. In general, Haitians are quick to see the inferiority of African-Americans, yet as a people show very little regard for their own. Children are not valued as they are in many other countries such as the U.S. Children are the aftermath of a sexual encounter, and very little else after that. Of course the fairer they are, the finer their features and hair (actually closer to caucasian looking) may afford them some greater amenities in life. Born and schooled in the U.S., I remember one of the proverbs my mother would say, which makes me sick to my stomache to this very day, "why do donkey's have children, so they can bear the weight". That is the destiny of a Rest Avek, whether they are a sibling,relative or totally unrelated to the authoritarian. The culture itself is so demeaning to its women and children. Until the people themselves are valued and respected by their own government and the people of means (the wealthy and upper class), are encouraged to respect and value self and others like themselves, are taken out of abject poverty and illiteracy, only then will you have a trickle down effect where children may be loved,nurtured and valued and hence see a decline in the proliferation and tolerance of the Rest Aveks. I am shamed by our cruelty and ignorance towards each other. And our dirty little secret should be no more...

    July 20, 2009 at 12:55 am |
  6. Adrian Coleman-Tyler

    How much does Deena's Aunt want for her freedom? Who negotiates the 'sale' of the slave and emancipation of Deena, the government? If freed, is there anyway to protect her from being sold into slavery again by her family?

    Thanks Dr.Gupta and CNN for this spotlight on Haiti and your continued advocacy for the children of the world.

    July 18, 2009 at 9:05 pm |
  7. Freedom

    I am not shocked at all. Nor do these comments shock me. But I do not understand why all of a sudden people want to care....

    Where were we during the mud slides earlier this year that killed so many...
    Where were we to help clean up, and prevent deseases from spreading.

    This will be forgotten in a week....


    July 15, 2009 at 7:48 am |
  8. Linda Hughley

    Thank you for telling this tragic story. I went on the website of the Restavek Foundation to give a donation, but the only way to do so appears to be to give personal information and credit card information on the website. I couldn't find a mailing address for the foundation. My husband's checking account was once accessed by an unauthorized person when he sent a check to an overseas charity. The bank said you should never send a check overseas. It advised only sending money orders. Therefore, now, we only send money orders when donating to overseas charities. Does the Restavek Foundation have a secure mailing address to which money orders may be sent ?

    July 15, 2009 at 3:21 am |
  9. Haiti0440

    Hello CNN,
    When are you people going to stop exploiting my people?
    I am sick and tired of your pretend pity.
    Do you really care about HAITI?
    What is your ultimate goal in posting this story/video?
    Why my people you exploited in this video?
    Don’t you see our pain, our tribulations, and our sorrow?
    Do you really believe that by divulging and depicting our most shameful pain you are helping those who are experiencing it day in and day out?
    Haven’t we “the Haitian people” suffered enough from your arrogance?
    We do not need lessons of morality and civilization from you “CNN”. As you mentioned in your piece, we are the first black republic in the world. Haitians did 1804 as Americans did 1776. We are proud of who we are.
    Although we are one nation, we are different people with different views, customs, habits, and mentalities. Some of us take pleasure in the suffering of others. Some of us prefer to look away when a fellow Haitian is in need. But others do as much as they can to help alleviate the pain. One day, both Haitian natives and foreigners who truly care about Haiti and the Haitian people will have the opportunity to change this country for good.
    “Le’l a libere ayiti va bel o, wa tande, wa tande koze” (Carol, 1987).
    We are the descendants of true heroes. Not the ones made out of soundbites from your TV/Web site.
    As you so eloquently mentioned, we were the first to say no to the ancient form of slavery. But if you are really serious about reporting modern slavery, you’d better look elsewhere…

    July 15, 2009 at 12:21 am |
  10. bb

    I agree 100% with Dr. Jean Rony, I think there are better subjects to talk about Haiti. The press always pictures the bad side of Haiti... but forgot to ask how Haiti got there in the 1st place? Insecurity, hunger, jobless, corruption, sickness... who or what's behind all that? No offense Dr. Gupta, you r doing a good job however restavek does not exist in Haiti only... even in America Doc... ok. So, why the focus is only on us, haitians... you need to do more traveling. We have enough of bad coverage that is destroying the image of my motherland. Why nobody is talking about our beautiful beaches, our arts, our culture and beliefs... to bring back the tourists. Oh no!!! but keep on saying that Haiti is the poorest in the western hemisphere. Who is responsible??? Thanks but no thanks CNN!!! Haiti needs another chance... I am an RN-BSN, and my dream is to give back to Haiti. We need help to rebuild and reborn. "How can we rebuild/help Haiti?" Let's talk about that CNN.

    Proud to be haitian, BB

    July 14, 2009 at 11:26 pm |
  11. Manou

    It always been my dream one day if i ever go back to Haiti to start a foundation to help young restavek haitian kids. This issue always makes me sad every time that I think about it. Thank you Dr Sanjay Gupta. I came in the US at age 16. I did graduate a BS degree from a state university. I am a well educated person. I have been living here for at leat 20 years. Dr Sanjay Gupta your report is 100% true. In fact one thing that i noitice that you did not cover is the fact that those kids are iliterate. Sometimes these kids are victims of sexual and physical abuse. In fact the job description of these restavek kids include: washing clothes by hand which include bed sheets, comforter and iron them too, they cook, clean the house etc. The haitian government doesnt provide any help for these kids.

    July 14, 2009 at 2:38 pm |
  12. Melanie

    While i understand human rights are evidently required. I think after traveling a large part of the world, that there are simply too many of us. And things are likely only to get worse.
    Why is it that we regulate the breeding and number of nearly every species but ourselves??
    I think if our population was in control, we might stand a chance on fixing other issues.

    July 14, 2009 at 12:11 pm |
  13. Jean-rony jean-mary,MD

    I think you misunderstand the haitian culture where extended family is very family helped raise many cousins of 2nd degree, many distant family members that could not afford to go to school..the last child that my mother took from the remote side othe country is about to graduate from nursing school.she is not a slave in our home..abuse is one thing ,slavery is another.abuse is every where including haiti,USA.Slavery is not in our culture..we need you to come down there and show that we are educated people,hard working citizens with a dream of a better future for our country..stop putting us down with the same cliche over and over....

    July 14, 2009 at 10:09 am |
  14. Jean-rony jean-mary,MD

    while I understand that there are kids working in haiti,Ithink there are better issues to talk about instead of child slavery in haiti.we have enough of those negative reports/bad press that have put the country that for so long.As I child,I had my share of responsibilities in what kept the household going on.I woke up at 5:30-6:00 am and I provided water ,with my brother and other kids ,each of us respectively to our parents for the daily meals..that was'nt slavery..this gave us a sense of responsibility that we keep with us to this day..that did not affect my the contrary,I am a physician in your country today with a double the neighborhood where we haitians are from responsibility and accountability are taught at an early age ,not after 18years of age when you are ready to go to the way when are you going to change that cliche of.. Haiti .the poorest country of the western hemisphere?journalists here are lazy.they need to change that cliche.come up with some thing mw that you can..

    July 14, 2009 at 9:37 am |
  15. norman hart

    sure, sotomayor will be confirmed – demos hold edge. and why not? obama has not nominated anyone that does not have a sordid background i.e., couple of tax evaders – one which is treasury punk who said he would not have paid his taxes if he wasnt nominated. his financial "genius" who bankrupted his last job. obama is doing what he set out to do –run our beautiful country into becoming a "4th" rated country.
    god have mercy.

    July 14, 2009 at 9:08 am |
  16. Garry

    This story in Haiti is something that needed to be reported. It's actually worse and more complex than Dr Gupta is exposing. I am from Haiti having experience this life. I was not a RESTAVEC or REST AVEK- but when I was 13 I knew to may restavek to count. As a child I played with them. There was one in particular that my twin brother & I became very good friends with. We try to teach her how to write & read. The owner were furious and accused us of putting ideas in her mind. Ideas that one day she could become somebody. You see this child not only was a endangered servant, this girl was also sexually abused. She had no rights and she existed for the owner. This child was my age yet had more responsability than my father and mother combined. She had to fetch water/ buy at the market/ kill the chickens for food/clean house/be a babysitter/be a body gard to the owner's kids/she had duty to be the helper to other servant closer tothe owners/her wage is any was not given to her/ the clothes she had were passed hand me down the were the one that had no use and only then they would give them to her. This is painfull to remember. I saw every day a child in dispair knowning that she was there to live at the mercy of another human being. My brother and I would bring her food regularly when evry one would be a sleep. What she ate were scraps- she had worms from suckling on dirt – And when confronted the owner would violently warn us to stay out of their business. In those days Haiti was gonerned by President Duvalier and his "Tonton Macouts". We really put our parents in danger for giving attention to this girl. The exploitation is so enormous over there, & the gonerment does nothing about that. Thanks Dr Gupta for giving a voice to Nivea. That was her name, and to many others like her

    July 14, 2009 at 8:40 am |