Haiti is the only nation in history to be born of slave revolt and was the first nation in history to fully abolish slavery. Haiti’s revolution and independence from France in 1804 helped inspire an anti-slavery movement that swept the world. Today, chattel slavery is no longer legal anywhere.
The United States and the European powers feared that slaves in their own states and colonies would rise up, too, and did all they could to isolate and weaken Haiti. About twenty years after Haitian independence, France threatened to re-invade and enslave Haitians again unless Haiti agreed to pay reparations for the property and economic loss French slave-holders experienced. Haiti agreed to pay 150 million French gold Francs. This sum was four times what France charged the U.S. for the Louisiana Purchase and took Haiti until 1947 to finish paying. It formed a kind of debt bondage for Haiti, which drove Haiti’s people further and further into poverty, especially in rural areas.
This debt bondage and the subsequent poverty have contributed to the reemergence of a modern form of child slavery in Haiti called rèstavèk. Today as many as 300,000 Haitian children live apart from their families in this often brutal form of domestic servitude. As awareness of this practice grows in Haiti, a movement to end this practice has emerged in Haiti. Beyond Borders has been working for over a decade to support the growth of this movement. We draw inspiration not only from Haiti’s past success in overcoming human bondage but in the courageous struggle we witness today.
The world can draw inspiration both from Haiti’s history and its current struggle. We know that it still takes a movement to break the chains that bind humanity. As we work to strengthen the movement to end child slavery in Haiti, we know that the people of Haiti are serving as a model for the rest of the world. The spark of liberation in Haiti can again spread a movement for liberation where oppression and isolation exist anywhere in the world.