I’ve been heartsick ever since the news came out about the death of Charlenni Ferreira. I can’t stop thinking about her life and what her final moments must have been like. There are no pat solutions for the bureaucratic mishaps that failed to change this young girl’s situation, to save her life. But for all those parents out there, if your kid comes home and tells you a story about abuse, I hope you’ll listen. And act.
Let me tell you a story. Ten or so years ago, when my little sister was about seven or eight, she used to play double-dutch with two girls a couple doors from us. The girls, who had just emigrated with their family from Haiti, were relatives. Or so we thought. One summer day, when they knocked on our door to ask for my sister, I saw a burn mark on the leg of one of the girls. It spanned her little leg and was coated with a mixture of blood and pus. Horrified, I asked her what happened. “I was cooking and I dropped a pot on my leg,” she told me. She wouldn’t meet my eyes. Nobody had taken her to the hospital.
The girls left with their sidewalk chalk and I stood from the porch and watched them play. In the next few weeks, some more information came out. Turns out her mother, who still lived in Haiti, had sent her to live with this particular family in America. She did their cooking, their cleaning – any work they wanted, which explained why she was so often interrupted in play and so rarely allowed out. Years later, I read this article in Time Magazine on restevak, a Haitian tradition of child slavery and immediately thought of her. I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had somehow managed to report the case to to someone who cared. When I told my parents about the case, they, like so many, shook their heads, tsk-tsked and told me it wasn’t my business. And besides my parents, who else was there for a teenager to tell? Continue reading