2016 - Ongoing
Port-au-Prince, Ouest, Haiti
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 over 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 the young girls, this photo essay chronicles their lives in domesticity and their attempt to readapt to family life after being reunited with their biological parents.
Djuna Pierre, lives in Martissant, a dusty and deadly community in the heart of Port-au-Prince. Since her mother ran away last December, Djuna lives with Frisnou, her half-sister, and Fritz Belfleur, her stepfather, a stubborn man in his late forties.
For one, there is love; for the other, indifference. “I beat Djuna because she is not my real child,” Belfleur told me. “If my circumstances were better, my relationship with her would be different. We would live in harmony.”
Faïka Lionel lives in Carrefour, an overpopulated neighborhood in Haiti’s capital. Her mother, Clermise Augustin, embodies the Haitian proverb 'pitit se riches': Children are wealth. Believing that the more children she brings into the world, the better chance she has of dodging misery, Augustin is a mother of eight. She was able to keep only two.
Faïka ended up at her sister’s. In her hometown of Laval, schools are a rare commodity. Most children end up picking crops in nearby fields or helping around the house. But Augustin wanted a brighter future for her children.
“Every time I eat something, I think of them,” she said, sitting next to a burning stove heating a single portion of rice. “But I have to stay silent because there is nothing I can do.”
Rose-Laure was born in Kenscoff, an agricultural village. To this day, Rose-Laure remains a mystery: An abandoned wanderer with no identifying documents. After being physically abused by her domestic parent, Rose-Laure ran away. A life on the streets felt safer than staying put.
Staffers from Sofalam, a local organization working to assist homeless girls, found her and took her in. Most Sofalam charges are reunited with their families after a month in a temporary home, but Rose-Laure has been here for more than eight months.
Social workers cannot locate her family; she was too little when she left town and struggles to remember even hints of her past. Her mother, some say, has died.
This ongoing body of work sheds 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.