In Haiti, many families can’t realize the opportunities they dream of granting their children - so the families leave home, or send their children away. Some end up in safe and caring environments, but others encounter exploitation and abuse. This system, called child domesticity, involves more than 300,000 Haitian children, most of them girls.
The practice of domesticity began during Haiti’s colonial era, when European settlers used young children living on the land they claimed for domestic work. In the 1960s, as urbanization sparked heavy internal migration, poor Haitian parents began to rely on family members living in the city to care for their children.
Working collaboratively with young girls who experienced a life in domesticity, this project documents their domestic lives and their attempt to readapt to family life after being reunited with their biological parents.
My intention is to shed light on the different origins and consequences of each narrative, suggesting that domesticity is no singular concept or idea; rather, it is a spectrum in grayscale of all kinds of relationships that shape the realities of Haitian youth.
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When her mother died in the 2010 earthquake, Jasmine was found in the street by a woman named Enyse Cibidon, who took her in and raised her. Due to the trauma of losing her mother and being separated from her family, Jasmine spends her days crouched behind the door of the small, unfurnished room in which she now lives in domesticity.
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Naïka sweeps the floor of her domestic home. While making children help with house chores - whether they live in domesticity or not - is a common practice in Haitian culture, domestic children are expected to work more. Common chores include carrying water, doing the dishes, sweeping floors, and building a fire to cook breakfast.
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Naïka, 8, sweeps the kitchen floor of her domestic home after school. When Naïka’s mother died at a young age and her grandmother could not care for her, she was sent to live with Delna Dordisan. “I help her and send her to school, but she is missing something important. She is missing her mother’s love,” Ms. Dordisan said.
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Djuna and her half-sister, Frisnou, carry buckets of water for their neighbors’ laundry. The poor treatment she receives at home forces Djuna to provide services for people in her community in exchange for food.
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Rose-Laure (third from right), 16, sits in the courtyard of Sofalam, a local organization that rescues young girls living on the street. No longer able to sustain the abuse she received in her domestic home, Rose-Laure ran away and became homeless until found by staffers of the organization.
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When funding allows for it, students of the Foyer Maurice Sixto, who live in domestic homes in the city, travel to their hometown of Laval to visit their mothers. The school provides goods, such as imported rice, for the girls to gift their families.
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Faïka walks home with a friend after school. She is one of the 300 students - mostly current and former domestic children - of the Foyer Maurice Sixto school who attend class in the morning and learn a profession in the afternoon. The school’s founding priest, Father Miguel Jean-Baptiste, opened its doors in 1989. His initiative tackled a staggering reality: a quarter of the children who live separated from their families don’t go to school.
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Faïka (left), 17, attends an afternoon sewing class. Since living in domesticity at her sister’s home, Faïka has been able to attend school and learn a profession she can pursue once graduating. Since 2014, the Support Service for Professional Integration helps young graduates find jobs through trainings, internships, and partnerships with various companies. Only a small percentage of students, however, are able to find sustainable employment.
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Djuna sits inside her neighbor's home. Seven years ago, when a magnitude 7 earthquake killed 220,000 to 316,000 Haitians, Djuna and her parents lost everything: their home, relatives, and the love that keeps families together when turmoil strikes. The guilt of failing to provide for Djuna had overwhelmed her mother. It was easier to leave than to stay.
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Rose-Laure (right) was first placed in domesticity when a family friend mentioned she “needed a child” to help around the house. In many cases, a middleman is in charge of facilitating the relocation of a child from one home to another. In Haiti, this person is known as “Madam Sara” - Ms. Sara - a term first employed by householders when asked about the children they had sent away.
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The sun sets over Kenscoff. Rose-Laure was unable to find her mother; most people in town believe she has died. From over 300,000 children living in domesticity, an estimate of 894 children were reunited with their biological families between 2011 and 2013. Those that are not reunited end up living in temporary homes, with host families, in the streets; or, like Rose-Laure, continue to be exposed to a domestic reality with no real place to call home.