Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore have just launched a social and global campaign to raise awareness about child slavery in Haiti with the goal to completely ban the “restavec” system that is promoting it.
In an exclusive interview with Mashable, the couple explained to us exactly what is happening in the earthquake-devastated country, what they hope to accomplish through their foundation, and how people can use social media to spread the word.
Here is what they had to say, as well as ways you can help.
Background: Restavec and What’s Happening in Haiti
Slavery is something that most people believe is a thing of the past. After all, it was abolished in the U.S. nearly 150 years ago by the Emancipation Proclamation and Abraham Lincoln. However, Ashton and Demi told us otherwise in a 20 minute phone call interview conducted earlier today.
In Haiti, there is a system known as restavec, which is French for “one who stays with.” In it, a child is sent by his or her parents to work as a domestic servant with a host family, usually because the parents believe that their child will have a better quality of life if they give him or her up.
Both Ashton and Demi strongly believe that the system is simply slavery given a different name. They are forced to help out a host family, clean after them, and essentially work as slaves. Ashton said that most of these children, who can be anywhere from five to fifteen, do not go to school and are not provided the opportunities they deserve.
Here’s how former President Bill Clinton describes the situation:
“As the people of Haiti re-envision the future of their country and begin to build back better, there is an enormous opportunity for us to partner together to help develop a more modern economy that uplifts all Haitians. Protecting the rights of children is important, as is strengthening their access to quality education and health services. The Haitians are committed to this, and I am glad Demi and Ashton are taking action and supporting this important issue.”
The Campaign Against Restavec
On Wednesday, March 31st, there will be a meeting of donors at the United Nations to discuss sending $11 billion in aid that the Haitian government has request. Out of that, $2.8 billion would be reconstruction funds from the U.S. Government, requested by President Obama.. Thus, several U.S. congressmen will be attending the conference.
This is where the Demi & Ashton Foundation (DNA) is looking to make the biggest impact. Their feeling is that in order to build a newer and better Haiti, we cannot put money into a broken system that includes restavec. Demi stated that just as builders will apply stricter codes to protect buildings from future earthquakes, they want to apply rules that will ban the restavec system. This, they believe, is “the first steps to a better and more just society.”
They made it clear that they totally support governments, foundations and individuals that are donating their time and money to Haiti. However, the reality is that the suffering that exists there is horrific and it will take many years to rebuild; thus, it is important to rebuild it right.
Starting now, their foundation is launching a campaign to bring awareness to the restavec issue to those with their fingers on the purse strings. They want to build incredible awareness and generate incredible discussion around this important issue, starting with the social web.
The Role of Social Media in the Campaign
The key to their campaign to end child slavery — and slavery worldwide — is awareness. The problem is simple: most people think slavery doesn’t exist. Ashton specifically pulled out one stat: there are now twice as many salves than there were when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a problem that has only grown with time, and the celebrity couple do not want to live in a world where this atrocity exists.
“It’s going to take a lot of loud voices,” Ashton said to me. This is why he and Demi are turning to the social web to spread the message. Platforms like Mashable, Facebook, and Twitter have helped the world come around on important issues before — three key examples Ashton gave was fighting Malaria, the #IranElection Crisis, and #BlameDrewsCancer. They believe that ending child slavery in Haiti will become another cause the social web will rally around.
Slavery Is Not An Impossible Problem to Solve
One of the key themes of our conversation was that this is not an impossible problem to solve. Unlike curing a disease, which can really depend on the type of disease and the state of scientific problem, slavery is dependent purely on human behavior. Thus, the solution to the problem is based on “love thy neighbor as yourself.” Ending child slavery and restovec is not an unattainable goal.
Their call to action is simple: tell people about what’s happening in Haiti, and reach out to the congressmen that have the power to get Haiti’s government to end child slavery. Demi and Ashton are encouraging everybody to use Twitter to @reply to the congressmen that will be attending next week’s UN meeting (they will soon post a list of them on their Facebook page, their Twitter account, and their foundation’s website). They encourage everyone to tweet and contact Barack Obama about the issue. They hope, most of all, to generate buzz and start a big conversation around restovec and bring a new level of awareness that was not there before.
The campaign begins now, and goes on even after the donor’s conference at the UN next Wednesday — Demi says that it will take a long-term commitment by everyone to end child slavery not only in Haiti, but worldwide as well.
I believe these two quotes from our phone call really sum up their passion for banning child slavery and the restovec system in Haiti:
Ashton: “Let’s support the Haitian people, but let’s support them the right way, and let’s support all of them; don’t forget about the 300,000 children that are enslaved.”
Demi: “It’s about creating the awareness that draws the line of what’s acceptable and unacceptable. Any human being enslaved is unacceptable. As long as one is enslaved, then we are all enslaved. It’s an atrocity to stand by and let this happen.”
If You Want to Support Demi and Ashton’s Campaign
If you want to support the Demi & Ashton Foundation’s aim “to eliminate child sex slavery worldwide,” then here are some links to get you started:
Facebook: Demi & Ashton Foundation
In addition, here’s a list of some of the congressmen and senators that the foundation is looking to reach:
John Kerry: @JohnKerry
Richard Lugar: @senatorlugar
Kirsten Gillibrand: @SenGillibrand
Christopher Dodd: @SenChrisDodd
Russel Feingold: @RussFeingold
Barbara Boxer: @Boxer_2010
Robert Menendez: @SenatorMenendez
Benjamin Cardin: @SenatorCardin
Robery Casey Jr.
Jeanne Shaheen: @JeanneShaheen
Bob Corker: @SenBobCorker
James E. Risch
Jim DeMint: @JimDeMint