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Background: Children’s Rights

My Life as a Girl, So Far will provide an opportunity to think about the 1989 Convention of the Rights of the Child.

The Convention of the Rights of the Child is an international agreement between the nations of the world. Each nation who has signed the agreement — including Canada and Haiti and 138 other countries — has promised to advance and promote a set of rights for the children of their country. They have agreed to do so knowing that the building blocks of a healthy society are found with the rights of the children.

UNICEF Canada summarizes the rights of children as:

  • Protection from abuse and exploitation
  • Provision of education, healthcare and an adequate standard of living
  • Participation in society and the right to express their views
  • Specific protections for those particularly vulnerable such as children with disabilities and, using Canada as an example, First Nations children

Rest-avek

A story of a rest-avek child can conjure up images of Cinderella with wicked, cruel and selfish relatives exploiting a girl — who is alone in this world — for their own gratification.

But the rest-avek issue is not the story of Cinderella. It is a children’s rights issue that is very complex with a long, long history and many generations of children affected.

Rest-avek means  “stay-with” in Haitian Kreyol. It is practice deeply embedded in Haiti. Traditionally, it is a situation whereby poor, rural children leave the family home to live with wealthier relatives in the city. Rest-avek children are as young as 5 years old and are most often girls.

The understanding is that the child will help with the work of the household and will receive room and board and be cared for as a member of the family – and will be sent to school.  The promise is that the child will be provided opportunities not otherwise available.

There would be as stories and experiences equal to the number of approximately 300,000 rest-avek children in Haiti — a country with a population of approximately 10 million people.

But what is true is that once a child is separated from the family home they become at greater risk of exploitation.

And that the situation of a rest-avek child is often one of exploitation – and physical, emotional and sexual abuse [“droit du seigneur” (right of the master) and “la pou sa” (there for that)]. The rest-avek child becomes isolated – and voiceless.

Maison des arts

The Maison des arts is not a real place in Port-au-Prince but is easy to imagine that in a country where the media arts (especially radio) and the fine arts are so valued that such a place – a place that promotes the rights of a child — would exist and thrive.

Three of the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child relate especially to the story being told in My Life as a Girl, So Far:

  • Article 13. The child should have the right to freedom of expression; the right shall include the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any other media of the child’s choice.
  • Article 17. States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health. To this end, States Parties shall:
    • Encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child and in accordance with the spirit of article 29;
    • Encourage international co-operation in the production, exchange and dissemination of such information and material from a diversity of cultural, national and international sources;
    • Encourage the production and dissemination of children’s books;
    • Encourage the mass media to have particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous;
    • Encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being, bearing in mind the provisions of articles 13 and 18.
  • Article 31. 1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. 2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.