The Plight of Haiti's Children

Haiti's Children | Photos and Audio by Ron Haviv; Edited by Steven King / washingtonpost.com

You can turn left or right, walk straight or backward -- the direction doesn't matter. In the streets of Port-au-Prince and surrounding slums, the children of Haiti are everywhere.

Maladies that strike the children here are similar to those plaguing strife-ridden Darfur, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The main difference is that Haiti is not officially at war. Less than four hours by plane from New York and even closer to Miami, this country's next generation is in serious danger of not growing up.

The future -- and that is all Haiti has -- lies with this country's youngest generation -- and with nearly 4 million children, almost half of Haiti‚s population is under the age of 18. But children facing a serious lack of education, medical care, nutrition and housing are forced to live their lives doing nothing. Haiti is so poor that the child labor common in other parts of the developing world doesn't exist -- there is simply no work at all.

Walking through the streets, children in various states of dress outnumber those in impeccably clean school uniforms. From ripped clothing to an out-of-place Notre Dame T-shirt to wearing nothing at all, kids congregate in groups and make do playing with rocks masquerading as marbles.

Haiti is a tough place to have a childhood, but for orphans it is something unimaginable. There are thousands of children who have no one. With the help of his faith, Bishop Yves-Innocent Louis does his part running the Life is Wealth Orphanage, a 60-bed facility filled mostly with girls from 2 to 17 years old.

In a scene straight from Oliver Twist, children line up at a table eating in unison. The only difference from the Dickens version is that they smile as they eat the second of three meals that day. The orphanage is run with religious fervor and supported by Americans and the World Food Program. These children live in an entirely different world than those with families in places like Cité Soleil: They have a school, computer lessons and attend required religious services each week.

Fabienne Jean Baptiste, an 11-year-old girl with a soft voice, pigtails held in pink and blue berets and a checkered shirt, has been here since she was 2. She says she's happy and has many friends at the orphanage.

On another side of town, children are struggling just to eat more than one meal a day. Malnutrition runs rampant throughout the country, evident in swollen stomachs and the turning of hair to red. Contrast the hunger with the toy guns made of plastic and metal that can be found everywhere and the graffiti picturing the latest in weaponry that decorates many people's walls. The violence once meted out by the military is now alive and well in the minds and homes of the Haitian people.

Already, Haiti's youngest generation seems lost like so many before it, unable to lead the country out of its mess, or even to imagine a society free of violence and hunger. Then again, if Fabienne is able to realize her dreams of becoming a doctor, there just might be a chance for Haiti.

Award-winning photojournalist Ron Haviv is on the ground in Port-au-Prince documenting the run-up to Haiti's presidential and legislative elections. >>About This Blog

By Ron Haviv |  February 4, 2006; 10:59 AM ET
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"Haiti is so poor that the child labor common in other parts of the developing world doesn't exist -- there is simply no work at all."

Child labor exists in Haiti; it just not as obvious. One needs to have a good grasp of Haitian culture in order to see it. To learn more about it check this website

http://quicksitemaker.com/members/immunenation/restavek.html

and also check this story that appeared on this australian newspaper in September 2005

http://www.theage.com.au/news/world/pitiless-world-of-the-slave-children/2005/09/24/1126982270257.html


Posted by: margarette rateau | February 4, 2006 01:22 PM

"Haiti is so poor that the child labor common in other parts of the developing world doesn't exist -- there is simply no work at all."

Child labor exists in Haiti; it just not as obvious. One needs to have a good grasp of Haitian culture in order to see it. To learn more about it check this website

http://quicksitemaker.com/members/immunenation/restavek.html

and also check this story that appeared on this australian newspaper in September 2005

http://www.theage.com.au/news/world/pitiless-world-of-the-slave-children/2005/09/24/1126982270257.html


Posted by: margarette rateau | February 4, 2006 01:23 PM

You may also want to check this link to learn more about the destabilisation of Haiti by the "international community" and the negative impact it has on the most fragile segment of Haitian society

http://quicksitemaker.com/members/immunenation/newsletter.html

http://www.haitiaction.net/News/IJDH/2_2_6.html

Americans might wonder as for what to be done about Haiti in the long term, the solution was best framed by Dr. Paul Farmer in his book, The Uses of Haiti:

"What, then, is to be done? The first order of business, for citizens of the United States, might be a candid and careful assessment of our ruinous policies towards Haiti. The Haitian people are asking not for charity, but for justice."

Posted by: margarette rateau | February 4, 2006 01:47 PM

Amazing photo! Love hearing the children sing and seeing the images. Thank you for telling me about these children

Posted by: Michael Kenney | February 4, 2006 02:03 PM

Wonderul story, and video. It just broke my heart to hear that the girl wanted to be a doctor and I want to do something to help her.

Please keep doing this important work and show us more photos please.
Thank you!

Posted by: Debbie Williams | February 4, 2006 02:07 PM

Americans might wonder as to what to do for Haiti in the long term. The answer to this question was best framed by Dr Paul Farmer in his book, the Uses of Haiti:

"What, then, is to be done? The first order of business, for citizens of the United States, might be a candid and careful assessment of our ruinous policies towards Haiti. The Haitian people are asking not for charity, but for justice."


Posted by: margarette rateau | February 4, 2006 02:07 PM

The heart break of those photos is that none of the children are smiling. I was in Haiti on a medical mission in 2004 and the children, though poor, were joyful. Adults were hopeful things would someday get better. I watched that disappear, and it seems that such attitudes have not returned.

The question to ask is -- if things worsen after the election, how can the world feed the people of Haiti?

Posted by: pittendreigh | February 4, 2006 04:52 PM

"Haiti is so poor that the child labor common in other parts of the developing world doesn't exist -- there is simply no work at all."

While this statement as rhetoric in the service of a larger point that needs to be emphasized is no great sin in itself, as reportage in an article presuming to tell us the truth about Haiti, it is rather a problem. What about the reste-avecs? they dont count? What about the thousands upon thousands of Haitian children, aged anywhere between 8 on up, who leave their families behind to cross the border and work in the cane fields, rice fields, or urban streets of the Dominican Republic? As Ms. Rateau observed, you need to have a better grasp of Haitian culture and of this present crisis in particular in order to see it -- and more to the point in order to undertake the responsibility of explaining the matter to your readers. The slideshow is nice, the sound bites cut to the quick, but the blog needs to give us some more facts and less rhetoric.

Posted by: Jon Anderson | February 4, 2006 05:11 PM

those are interesting comments...and i have also heard horrible stories about the way people in the dominican republic treat people in haiti...it is all such a tragic and unnecessary mess...

Posted by: cb | February 5, 2006 01:09 AM

a missionary friend of mine knew a man who crossed the border to work in the DR...he was treated very badly and was dared to do a dangerous st

Posted by: | February 5, 2006 01:17 AM

a missionary friend of mine knew a man who crossed the border to work in the DR...he was treated very badly and was dared to do a dangerous stunt on a construction crew. he was impaled when he fell off a roof. granted he did not HAVE to do what his DR coworkers were daring him to but the aim is to please if you are haitian and working in the DR... if you mention where you are from at all. another man this missionary knows speaks only english and spanish there and does not tell anyone he is from haiti. it is strange how everyone seems to be against haiti. i have been there once and had a wonderful time with the people i met and stayed with... this article pierces my heart b/c it is the children who suffer the most and it is on these suffereing young ones that the hope of haiti rests... i get disgusted when i see BOTH sides of the political spectrum of the west using haiti for its own political uses...the left uses it to demonize the right and captialism and attempts to use it to spread socialism and the right pretty much ignores it except to laud "democracy" around the globe when elections of a sort actually happen. no one cares about haiti just for haiti...except many of the missionaries who risk their safety and give up their lives in hopes of helping people there...it is too bad there are so many small organizations and that they do not band together...a strand of the 3 cords is not easily broken...:o) it is encouraging to read about this father who is helping his own people...that is my prayer for haiti - that a generation of haitian young people would be given the tools to help change their country...maybe these children in father juste's school will be some to take up that challenge...with God all things are possible!

Posted by: cb | February 5, 2006 01:24 AM

if the US ignores Haiti, its neglect is the reason Haiti is poor.

if the US engages in Haiti, its interference is the reason Haiti is poor.

Anyone have any other possible reasons why Haiti is poor? Discuss. I can think of a good one!

Posted by: shortermargaretterateu | February 5, 2006 03:07 AM

Why do American reporters and others allways go to Haiti to photograph the negative aspects of life in Haiti. They call it raising awareness, but I'm starting to think it's more like exploitation. They do the same thing when they go to Africa. They go to some far out village where people are dying from AIDS or living in dire povrty and then they broadcast those pictures all over the world. Instead of raising awareness on the plight of these people they stigmatize an entire country and peoples. How many pictures of Doctors Lawyers office buildings lan-owners, people who can be considered successful in those countries have been splashed accross magazines and newspapers this past 25 years. I would say zero to none. It's true there is poverty in those countries but what do the poor get out having their pictures splashed across the globe in the most humiliating circumstances ?

Posted by: Eric Bonmoune | February 5, 2006 01:40 PM

I'm glad to see some attention being paid to Haiti, but I agree that this piece is a little shallow. Perhaps the author might go into why there is so little work: is it a problem of security, or lack of capital, or an energy crisis? More information and fewer quasi-feel-good lines like 'Then again, if Fabienne is able to realize her dreams of becoming a doctor, there just might be a chance for Haiti'.

Also, 'shortermargeretterateau', what reason do you mean? It sounds like a veiled reference to race to me. I'd like to see you just come out and say what you mean, and stop hiding behind cute little phrases. The US and France had it in for Haiti from the start, France more than us, but we've occupied Haiti several times, the CIA backed the original coup against Aristide in the 90s, and we most likely backed the latest one too. I don't know what country you live in but here in the US overthrowing a democraticly elected government is not considered helpful.

Posted by: Padraig | February 5, 2006 02:40 PM

Why is Haiti poor, you ask. It is poor and at the point of total disentegration because the United States strangled its democratically elected government. How? By withholding Inter-American Development loans approved in 1998 for five years. Not until 2003 did the funds slowly start to flow after intense international pressure on Colin Powell and the rest of the Bush administration. By then the small country had been starved and destabilized. The $148 million promised was not there for water resources, public health, education--critical to successful democratic nation building. The total meltdown had begun. By pulling the rug from under the popular Aristide and later participating in his overthrow, the U.S. assured that our small neighbor's collapse would be total and irreversible. See Tracy Kidder's article, Washington Post, August 7, 2002 and Randall Robinson's book, "Quitting America," Dutton Press, 2004.

Posted by: John Hall | February 5, 2006 02:50 PM

"Also, 'shortermargeretterateau', what reason do you mean? It sounds like a veiled reference to race to me. I'd like to see you just come out and say what you mean, and stop hiding behind cute little phrases."

that reads like a dangerous assumption to me. of course, that's the easiest assumption to make. why not simply strike that sentence and resist the temptation to bait this person into a "race debate?"

we miss so many opportunities to talk, to understand, and possibly to change attitudes because we assume too much about other parties engaged in discussions.

Posted by: conyers | February 5, 2006 03:31 PM

mr. monmoune

would it not be equally unjust to feed us only positive images and stories of haiti when there is still much work to be done?

i agree with the spirit of your point though. perhaps if journalists sought to provide more balanced coverage it would motivate more global leaders to step in to offer aid...

show stability and commercial opportunity to appeal to the non-nation-building right.

show hopeless, starving and wounded children to appeal to the save-the-world left.

Posted by: conyers | February 5, 2006 03:41 PM

John Hall wrote:

"Why is Haiti poor, you ask. It is poor and at the point of total disentegration because the United States strangled its democratically elected government. How? By withholding Inter-American Development loans approved in 1998 for five years."

Aha. So Haiti was dirt poor from independence in 1804 until 1998, and would have been on the road to wealth then had the US not withheld some loans.

Give me a break. Not convincing.

Posted by: hmmmm | February 5, 2006 05:18 PM

The Uses of Haiti by Dr. Paul Farmer is a primer for any english speaking person interested in learning the History of Haiti and its relationship with his big neighbor to the North from 1804 to 1998, its relationship with Europeans states from the 15h century to the beginning of the 20th century, the conspicious' role played by its tiny elite.

Posted by: margarette rateau | February 5, 2006 06:25 PM

"hmmm," you ask for a "break." Perhaps you should look for a solution. To move most Haitians, who live in abject poverty, from "poor" to "middle class," at least in their eyes, would be to provide a decent daily meal, a clean bed, potable water and a chance to attend school. From there (and with a modicum of stability), the Haitians could do great things. Also to your point, the U.S. has had a long shameful history of impeding the development of our neighbor in the Caribbean, dating back to the rebellion in 1791 and continuing forward to this day. Why? Because our successive governments felt it was not in our "interests," read: immediate economic and political interests. The irony is, of course, that we have been stupidly acting against our long term interests in Haiti for two centuries. Our eagerness to treat people like expendible commodities serves no ones "interests."

Posted by: John Hall | February 5, 2006 11:11 PM

I have no problem with journalists showing the bad all the time, because in general the media is so fixed on consumerism that we need the hardcore stuff as a corrective. Moreover, in Haiti and such places the bad needs to be shown in order to mobilize people to work for change, otherwise it all just gets swept under the rug. Ron Haviv is doing a hard job well, and he should be thanked for it. But the problem lies in the short attention span of the media and the fact that it doesnt bother to go beyond the sensational in order to get its facts straight, or bother to give continuous coverage (where were all these people during the years when Aristide's administration was undercut by the US false show of support? ) The events that led to the current crisis were not deemed by the media to be worth following and analysing -- only the bang bang and extreme decline draws them here now, and they will be leaving very soon. In the meantime, I wish they would just try harder to get it right. There is something like 75 percent unemployment in Haiti -- but that is the official economy. Let me tell you, Haitians work, they work hard. They have a cultural impetus to work. Everyone does something, be it shining shoes or selling something from a cart. Officially the guy is an unemployment statistic; in reality he is doing what he can. And that is work.

Posted by: Jon Anderson | February 5, 2006 11:49 PM

Freedom of Information Act revealed USAID is currently manipulating Haiti's election. Check this link for additional details:

http://www.freehaiti.net/

On June 16, 2004 Max Blumenthal of Salon.com wrote a piece on the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Haiti by the current republican administration. Check this link for details:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/max-blumenthal/uncovering-a-usplanned-c_b_14750.html

Posted by: margarette rateau | February 6, 2006 12:01 PM

I think Aristide should have finished his term. I see no reason why they let it slide.

Posted by: Silver Spring | February 6, 2006 01:17 PM

I think Aristide should had finished his term. I see no benefit in removing him. As a principle, elected official should not be removed from office thru any means other then the electoral process. Hence, the involvement of the international community in facilitating Aristide's departure is detrimental to the democratic process and a dis-service to Haiti.

Posted by: | February 6, 2006 01:34 PM

Not much different than Graham Greene observed in "The Comedians". So much sadder though, being 40 years later.

Posted by: Jim | February 6, 2006 10:40 PM

when ever discussing the problems of black people or societies we must blame white people or then the un-thinkable - we have to blame black people.

Lets just keep blameing whitey - feels sooo good and easy

Posted by: | February 7, 2006 11:54 AM

The long-term solution to Haiti's problem is both complicated and debatable. But if you want to have an immediate impact on a starving child, adopt a Haitian from one of the numerous orphanages and create a space for a child to come in from the street. My husband and I just adopted a 2 year old from Port-au-Prince in December. Because of severe malnutrition in early infancy (before he was in the orphanage), he is extremely small, but fortunately he is healthy and bright and happy. He bonded to our family very quickly and is a great joy. We will continue to support the orphanage and hope to take him back when he is older and the country is stable.
So stop just arguing policy and DO SOMETHING!!!

Posted by: lsallmen | February 7, 2006 07:31 PM

I think the Haitian people rely too heavily on the individual and not on the institutions that are there to serve them. By that I mean there needs to be a boby of checks and balances to curb corruption and incompetence. And, since no one is never happy with the outcome of any elections there. I think they need to better taylor the electoral process to curb dissatisfactions with the outcome

Posted by: Silver Spring | February 9, 2006 02:59 PM

I don't know who die and made you an expert on Haiti.

The "international community" and the MREs needs to understand they can no longer have Haiti all to themselves.

The "international community" only pay lip services to "democracy" in the developing countries. They want to promote a transnational elite who can represent their strategic and economic interests. This is their narrow definition of democracy.

However, on Tuesday February 7, the Haitian people, the true heirs of the Haitian revolution, trek miles and waited shoeless, hungry in miles-long lines under the hot Haitian sun for their chance to make democracy work for them.

The Haitian people are not asking for charity. They are asking for JUSTICE.

Posted by: margarette rateau | February 12, 2006 01:49 PM

I don't really understand this sort of thing. Why do people post comments on blogs? What does it acomplish? Are we helping Haiti or are we just speculating the situation?
I guess I might just be too practical for this sort of thing (or somthing like that).
And here is another question. Why am I posting on this blog? Is it to find an answer or to persuade others to do less talking and more action. But what can we do any way? Is any one going to actually do somthing for the Haitian people? Am I? No. Will the Government? We have no say in what the government does, besides voting every 4 years.
It is 2:30 in the morning so if my logic is goofy please don't yell at me :)

Posted by: Chris | February 24, 2006 03:20 AM

The Dominican Republic is also a poor nation we can't deal with Haiti. We need the United States to help us deal with Haiti the Dominican Republic helps Haiti in whatever the can but we need help from the U.S, which is ignoring Haiti like if it was a country from another planet.

Posted by: dominican | March 7, 2006 12:17 AM

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