How to Buy a Child in 10 Hours

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We follow Ti Soeur as she goes to fetch water from the communal well. This gives us a chance to ask her questions without her owners hearing.

She's a bright-eyed 11-year-old with short hair. When I ask her questions about the marks on her arm, she says, "The lady did it to me with an electric wire."

As I later learn, this appears to be a standard punishment -- whipping restaveks with the sort of electric cord you might you use to plug in a toaster or a laptop.

"Why would she do that to you?" I ask.

"Because one of the kids in the neighborhood came to see [her] in the house," the translator says.

"So you're not allowed to have any friends?"

"No."

"Do you have any time during the day where you can play, like a normal kid?"

"No. We don't play."

The translator explains, "If she doesn't go and pick up the water, they beat her up. If she doesn't sweep, beat her up."

By the time we visit Ti Soeur at 10 a.m., she's already cooked, cleaned, prepared the family children for school.

"Do you think the situation you're in right now is unfair?" I ask.

"Yes."

"Do you think you'll ever get out of this situation?"

"Yes."

"Do you have hope?"

"Yes."

"Good," I say.

After meeting Ti Souer, we decided to go find her parents, to get a sense of why they would give their child away.

'My Husband Forced Me'

Following a lead, we drive out of the throbbing, chaotic city, hours away, into the lush countryside. It's beautiful out here. We see clouds resting lazily in green valleys. We see women on their way to market, carrying impossibly large loads of goods on their heads.

But you can't miss the deprivation: It's everywhere. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere -- the result of decades of bad, brutal, kleptocratic leadership, and also, many believe, negative interference from outside powers, including the United States.

Haiti's poverty is on full display as we pull up to the house where Ti Soeur's mother lives. It's a shack, housing three families. Nine children live here, including one who we see using a condom as a toy balloon.

Ti Soeur's mother is named Lita Bellevue. After a few pleasantries, I ask her the obvious question.

"Can you tell me how it happened that you gave your daughter up?"

"My husband forced me to do it," she says.

She tells us that Ti Soeur's birth father is dead. Her new husband, who is abusive, forced her to give the child away, she says, because they are too poor to take care of her. However, the husband does not seem willing to part with the two young children he and Lita have had together.

"Can you imagine living without these children?" I ask.

"I cannot live without them," he says, flashing a nervous, toothless grin.

Lita says she's heard rumors that Ti Soeur is being abused by her owners.

"I hear she's being cut all over her arms and her head," she says. "I try very hard to rescue the child, to go see the child, but my husband won't let me."

"When you think about you daughter living this way, how hard is it for you?"

"I feel sick inside," she says.

To help us better understand why parents make these sorts of decisions, we go see Jean-Etienne Charles, a local Pentecostal pastor who preaches against child slavery. He's got a broad, happy face and a thriving church, complete with a school for local kids.

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