Rosa María Ortiz is the newly appointed Special Rapporteur for the Inter American Commission on Human Rights to monitor the situation in Haiti as well as the rights of children and youth in Latin America.
Of major concern on her recent visit to Haiti was the Restavek system ― a phenomenon which is a traditional part of Haitian culture in which young girls and boys work as unpaid household servants without access to education, contact with loved ones, or protection by the law.
For both societal and structural reason, including a lack of laws preventing such treatment of children and a lack of educational access in rural areas, the system persists today with thousands of children across the country denied their basic rights this way.
The ASR network (“Down with the Restavek System” in Creole) was created in 2000 with objective of bringing together all the organizations that work on this issue to work together to eradicate this problem and to advocate with local and international authorities.
During the meeting, the 18 members of ASR network gave some background to their work including the focus on education and awareness-raising, and reintegration in different neighborhoods of the capital Port-au-Prince and beyond.
ASR President Jean Salomon spoke about the process they have begun of writing a draft protocol specifically on the protection of children living in domesticity which would define the role different parties play in the chain of protection and reintegration. Once complete, ASR will advocate that the government to adopt this protocol into Haitian legislation.
For her part, Special Rapporteur Ortiz complimented the network, highlighting the importance of organizations uniting and working together and thus having a stronger stand on the issue of child protection.
She noted that a big difference between Haiti and surrounding countries is the lack of a judicial system and framework for integral protection. She stated that in addition to government, teachers also play an essential role in child protection and express her happiness knowing that many of the ASR network organizations work as a school and train many teachers.
She also took time to explain how the Inter-American Human Rights system works and how ASR can use this system to strengthen its advocacy work and raise awareness internationally of the complex issue of children living in domestic servitude. She also reiterated her commitment to staying in contact with ASR members stating “This is only the beginning of our relationship.”
Church World Service (CWS) ― of which the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a member ― has provided financial and technical assistance to the ASR network since 2009 and has also supported many of its members so they could participate in international conferences and exchanges with other organizations from the region that work in the defense of children’s rights.