Before the violence and the abuse, before the long mornings of work and the long nights of unrest, before their humanity is stripped away one day at a time, a restavek typically begins life in a loving home.
Here is how a child becomes a restavek: The child is born to parents in a rural community. Like 80 percent of Haitians, they are impoverished. Because Haiti has one of the highest birth rates in the region, the child enters a family with too many mouths to feed. Because the country's few schools are primarily in urban centers, the child has no hope of ever gaining an education. They are destined, it seems, to continue the cycle of poverty.
Yet parents believe there is a solution. By sending their son or daughter to live with a family in the city, they will free themselves from the economic burden of keeping their child fed and clothed. One fewer mouth to feed; a little more food to go around. By sending the child to the city, they tell themselves, they will give him or her the opportunity to go to school. They imagine their child as a shop-owner, or maybe even a doctor.
So the parents talk to a relative, or perhaps an acquaintance or even a stranger, who lives in one of Haiti's cities.