Saving children, saving Haiti? Child vulnerability and narratives of the nation

Hoffman, D. M.

Childhood 19(2): 155-168


ISSN/ISBN: 0907-5682
Document Number: 325035
Long before the earthquake in Haiti on 12 January 2010, but particularly since, international media and humanitarian groups have drawn attention to the 'vulnerable child' in Haiti, a child often portrayed as needing 'saving'. Focusing in particular on the restavèk (child domestic laborer), this article first explores the ways in which such children are represented as vulnerable and victimized, despite emerging ethnographic evidence on children's lived experience that paints a rather different picture. It then argues that far from being inconsequential, however, representations of children's vulnerability enable a critique of the Haitian culture and nation itself as fundamentally flawed and in need of saving through the interventions of the international order. Raising the question of for whom and for what purposes such projects of critique and saving exist, the article suggests that the saving of Haiti's children can be seen as a way to position the Haitian nation within a universalized and moralizing narrative of maturation/development that ultimately is not so much about meeting Haiti's (and its children's) needs as it is about satisfying the needs and desires of the more powerful in terms of their own security, prosperity and global dominance.

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