She was forced to get up at 2 a.m. to clean, cook, and wash the family’s clothes. They routinely beat her, threw water on her when they weren’t satisfied with her work, denied her food, and locked her up in their house when they went out. She was not allowed to go to school. She was just 8 years old.
For 2 years, Emeline (photo: left) lived apart from her mom Lilian (photo: right), and brothers, first with an aunt, and then with strangers. With both she was treated like a child domestic servant – or, to speak truth to power – a child slave.
How Emeline’s Ordeal Began
When Emeline was 8, her mother, Lilian, fell very ill. She couldn’t care for Emeline and her 4 siblings, so she left them with her their father – her ex-husband – so she could return to her hometown to recover with her mother. Once better, Lilian went to her husband’s to bring her kids home, only to find Emeline gone.
“She is off to live with my sister in Port-au-Prince,” Lilian’s husband said. Convinced by her ex-husband that Emeline would have a better life in the city than struggling to survive in the grip of poverty at home, Lilian was sad, but also a bit relieved.
She and her ex-husband knew nothing of the life their daughter was living and the suffering she was experiencing. Eventually Emeline’s aunt moved, leaving the girl with a neighbor, where the abuse continued.
Luckily, Emeline’s story does not end here.
Lilian’s neighbor began participating in a Beyond Borders Child Rights Training Program about protecting vulnerable children in their community – teaching adults about the risks children who are sent away often face.
“My neighbor would come and talk to me about what she was learning, about how children sent away from home are often mistreated, about the violence they endure,” Lilian said. The more she heard, the more she feared for her young daughter. “I began to cry and cry, and then became determined to find my daughter and bring her home.”
With the help of others in her community also trained by Beyond Borders, and another family member, Lilian traveled to the Haitian mainland and found Emeline. It was then that Lilian learned the truth about the life her daughter had been living. By then 10-years-old, Emeline had been living a nightmare of abuse, neglect and fear. “I was not leaving her there,” Lilian said of Emeline. “She was coming home with me.”
Living with Hope, Not in Fear
Today Emeline is back home with her mom and her siblings. She is 11 now, and a few weeks ago she started the 6th grade. Loving school, Emeline already knows what she wants to be when she grows up. “I want to be a nurse when I grow up”, she says, “so I can help everyone where I live to be healthy and strong.”
Lilian is also now taking part in a Beyond Borders’ program aimed at helping families like hers to escape the grasp of extreme poverty by developing the means to earn a living. Participants like Lilian are invited to select two different assets they can use to generate income for their families, usually livestock like goats, chickens and pigs, or the goods to start a small business. Weekly coaching visits with participants for a period of six-months train them in how to manage their new assets, establish a savings account, build their confidence and deal with any unforeseen challenges that arise.
“But for the grace of my neighbor who opened my eyes, my daughter would not be here with me today,” Lilian said, her voice full of emotion. And she has a message for other moms and dads in Haiti too: “Keep your children home with you,” she said. Do not send them away.”
As for Emeline, the happiness she feels at being back home with her mom is palpable. Behind the initial timidity in her eyes and the soft shyness with which she speaks, there are sparkles of hope and glimpses of tall aspirations of a little girl who now lives each day free from fear, free from abuse, free from servitude.
More Children Like Emeline Need to be Brought Home
Right now 1 in 8 Haitian children are living as Emeline was, languishing in servitude at the hands of those to whom they were sent to live with in hopes of finding a better life.
Emeline is one of 262 children freed from slavery and reunited with their families through the work of Beyond Borders and the Schools Not Slavery initiative. Eight other children from Emeline’s community have also returned home.
You can help free Haitian children like Emeline from slavery and empower their parents to raise them in a safe, loving home, free from fear and free to grow and flourish.
Give to the 2017 Schools Not Slavery Campaign.