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CHILD FOSTERAGE INT THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: A COMPARATIVE
ANALYSIS OF CHILD LIVING CONDITIONS
TESS MARIE KULSTAD GONZALEZ
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Tess Marie Kulstad Gonzalez
To my Papi, Bob Kulstad, whose life continues to inspire and be the source of
First and foremost, I extend sincere gratitude to the children, mothers, fathers and
grandparents who provided me with their time, voice and story. I have written this work
so that their reality is revealed and understood.
The j ourney of this study has been one of academic and personal development.
Without the guidance of my committee, Dr. Gerald Murray, Dr. Charles H. Wood, Dr.
Efrain Barradas and Dr. Paul Magnarella, this journey would have been less meaningful.
I am indebted to Professor Murray for introducing this proj ect to me and providing me
with the counsel to rediscover and explore the Dominican Republic. Since the beginning
of my studies at the Center for Latin American studies, Dr. Wood has been a significant
contributor to my academic development. His guidance has provided me the challenge to
reach the highest standards and aim to become an academic writer and thinker.
With great appreciation I thank the Center for Latin American Studies for
providing me with the Interdisciplinary Field Research Grant. This funding made this
study possible. I hope this thesis is a positive reflection of the trust granted to pursue
Finally, I would like to thank my family for all they have done to help me reach
this dream. In particular, I would like to thank my parents, Bob and Norma, for teaching
me to love and pursue knowledge. Lastly, I would like to thank my husband, Matthew,
for his patience, companionship, and insight throughout this fabulous, yet challenging
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENT S .............. .................... iv
LI ST OF T ABLE S ............ ...... .___ .............._ viii..
AB STRAC T ................ .............. ix
1 INTRODUCTION: FROM ORNITHOLOGIST TO ANTHROPOLOGIST, A
PERSONAL JOURNEY .............. ...............1.....
Child Fosterage as a Topic of Inquiry ............__......___ ..... ................4
Why Do Parents Give Up or Take In Children? ....._____ ..... ..___ ..............6
Challenges to Traditional Family Models ....._____ .........__ ........._.....6
Cinderella Effect .............. ...............7.....
Fosterage as Child Labor................ ...............8.
Methodological Approaches............... ...............
Quantitative Approaches .............. ...............9.....
Combined Approaches .............. ...............10....
Qualitative Approaches .............. .......___ .....___ ............1
Research Design and Methodological Choices .............. ...............12....
M ethod s ............... ...... ............... 13....
Participant Selection............... ...............1
Operational Definitions.............. .... ...._ ........ ............... 1
The Realities of Fieldwork- Reconsidering Interview Strategies ............... ..............17
Interviewing Children............... ...............19
Research Sites .............. ...............20....
Data Analysis .............. ...............20....
Conclusion ............ ...... ...............20...
2 "LENDING" CHILDREN VS "GIVING AWAY" CHILDREN: THE
OUTLINES OF DOMINICAN CHILD RELOCATION............... ...............2
Loans vs. Gifts- Child Relocation Modalities .............. .... ...... ..... ............2
"Prestadott~~~~~ttttt~~~~ or "Lent" Children- Temporary Parental Guardianship
Transfers .............. .... ... .. .... ... ..........2
Presttttttttttttttttta do Fosterage in a Global Perspective .................. .... .......... ...........29
Regalado or Given Away- Permanent Parental Guardianship Transfers.....29
Similarities ................. ...............32......__ _.....
Foster Parent Responsibilities .............. ...............32....
Foster Parent/Child Bond .............. ...............38....
The Language of Fosterage .........._...._ ... ......_ ...... ...._..._ .............3
Modes of Incorporation Into Dominican Homes: Trabajadorass Versus
Hifos de crianza ........._..... ........ ._._ .. ...............40..
Analytically Borderline Cases of Labor Exchange. .........._.. ...............45
Conclusion ........._._ ...... __ ...............51....
3 EXCHANGE OF COSTS AND BENEFITS: RIGHTS AND DUTIES INT THE
DOMINICAN CHILD RELOCATION SYSTEM .............. ...............52....
Physical Needs: Food, Clothing, Shoes and an Education ................ ................ ..52
Non-Academic Training.................. ..............5
Non-Academic Training for Daughters ................. ................. ........ 57
Non-Academic Training-Sons..................... .... .... ...........5
Exchange of Costs and Benefits: What are the Children Required to Do? ................59
Childrearing Benefits: Labor and Forthcoming Love .............. ....................6
Forthcoming Love ...............__....... ....._ ...... ... ... ..... .... ........6
Prestttttttttttttttttado vs. Regalad: Partitioning Childrearing Rights and Obligations ...............63
Presttttttttttttttttta do Parental R ights ................ ......... ..... .. ..... .......6
Evaluating the Childrearing Process- The Hifo de Crianza Supervisory
Process ...................... .. .. .. ............... .... .......6
Visitation- Child Protection and Links to Biological Roots ........................64
Vi sitati on Protocol ............... .... .. ...._._. ......_.._ .......... .......6
Visitation in Regalad Arrangements- Exceptions to the Rules..................67
Termination- Ending the Fosterage Agreement............._._. ............_._. .....70
Termination in Regalad Agreements?- Exceptions to the Rule .................71
Kinship and Civil Identity- "Papeles"~\` or "Papers" .................. ...............72
Conclusion ......_. ................ ........_.._.........72
4 WHY DO PEOPLE GIVE UP OR TAKE IN CHILDREN? .................. ...............74
Altruism or Self- Interest: Questions About Human Nature .............. ....................77
Crisis Fosterage .............. ...............8 1....
Fam ily Crisis .............. ...............82....
Death of Parent............... ...............82
Divorce or Separation............... ...............8
Domestic Violence .............. ...............89....
Economic Crisis................ .. ...............9
Alliance and Apprentice Fosterage .............. ...............91....
Affective Fostering ........._..... ...._... ...............91.....
Infertility Fosterage .............. ...............92....
Domestic Labor Fostering ................. ....._.._ ...............92......
Social Networks- The Binding Element .........._.._. ......__ ...........__......93
Conclusion ........._._ ...... __ ...............94....
5 CARIBBEAN CINDERELLAS ................. ...............97........... ....
Biological Versus Hifos de Crianza Living Conditions ........._. ...... ..._._..........99
Schooling .........._......... .. .. ._. ........... ............10
Domestic Labor- Work Load and Duties .............. ...............109....
Sleeping Arrangements ........._.. ....___........_. .. ..........1
Affe cti on ........._..... ..... __ ...............116...
Health Care ............. ...... ._ ...............121....
Nourishment ............. ...... __ ...............123...
Sexual Abuse ............. ...... ._ ............... 124...
Conclusion ............... .. ...... ... ...............128.
Why Differential Treatment? ............ ...............133.....
6 BI-ETHNIC FOSTERAGE ............. .....__ ....._ ............3
Life Along the Haitian-Dominican Border ................. ........... ........ .......... .....139
Transnationalism Along the Haitian-Dominican Border? .............. ... .........._..144
Why are Dominican Families Fostering Haitian Children? .......................144
Is Bi-Ethnic Fosterage a Novel Phenomenon? .........._..._ ........._.._. .....146
Haitian Foster Child Living Conditions .............. ...............149....
Papeles .............. ...............151....
Conclusion ........._ ........_. ...............152...
7 CONCLUSION................ ..............15
REFERENCES .............. ...............163....
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ........._. ........_. ...............166...
LIST OF TABLES
1-1 Living Conditions Indicator ................ ...._.._ ...............15. ....
4-1 Dominican child fosterage taxonomy. ............. ...............81.....
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
CHILD FOSTERAGE INT THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: A COMPARATIVE
ANALYSIS OF CHILD LIVING CONDITIONS
Tess Marie Kulstad Gonzalez
Chair: Gerald F. Murray
Maj or Department: Latin American Studies
Child fosterage, the voluntary practice of giving up offspring to be raised by other
families, is a common practice in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Parents in
both countries give up and/or take in children in an extra-legal arrangement that requires
that receiving parents provide the child with food, clothing, shelter and, above all,
schooling. In exchange, the child is usually expected to perform varying domestic labor
tasks in the new home. Despite the widespread nature of having hijos or hijas de crianza,
as the practice is commonly referred to in the Dominican Republic, very little is known
about it. Moreover, even less is known of an increasingly frequent modality in which
Haitian children are placed with Dominican families in the Dominican Republic. Given
the historically troubled relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, I
hypothesized that Haitian foster children living in Dominican foster homes would enj oy
less favorable living conditions than Dominican foster children living in Dominican
foster homes. In addition, I examined whether foster children, regardless of their
ethnicity, enjoyed less favorable living conditions than biological children.
I adopted a "systems analysis" approach to study the Dominican child fosterage
system. Fifty-five semi-structured interviews, multiple observations and one focus group
were carried out from June through July 2004 in the towns of Loma de Cabrera, Daj ab6n,
Restauraci6n, San Jose de Ocoa, Yamasa and Santo Domingo. The sample was selected
using the snowball sampling effect. Two comparative axes were used to guide the
analysis. First, the situation of Haitian foster children- their work schedules, living
circumstances, and educational opportunities-were compared to those of Dominican
foster children. Second, the situation of foster children as a group was compared to those
of biological children. Interviews were transcribed and translated into English and
themes and categories identified and analyzed.
Research findings reveal the existence of two distinct child relocation modalities-
prestttttttttttttttttado or lent and regalad or given away. Moreover, data suggest the existence of a
foster child living conditions continuum: (1) foster children and biological children are
treated equally; (2) foster children receive differential, yet adequate and better living
conditions than they would enj oy in their biological home; and (3) foster children are
treated inhumanely. Research findings suggest that (1) and (2) are the most prevalent
scenarios. This is supported by the existence of a strong cultural ideal that foster children
should be treated in the same manner as biological children in the foster home. In
regards to the Haitian foster children, no differences were observed in their living
conditions when compared to those of Dominican foster children.
INTRODUCTION: FROM ORNITHOLOGIST TO ANTHROPOLOGIST, A
Although I am currently enthralled by the topic of child fosterage practices in the
Dominican Republic, I did not originally intend it to be the subj ect matter of my master' s
thesis research. When I first arrived at the University of Florida in the fall of 2003, I was
a Tropical Conservation and Development student determined to study ethno-
ornithological knowledge in the Dominican Republic, my native country. Both my
husband and I are avid birdwatchers. By gathering data regarding local avian knowledge,
I hoped to contribute to the bird conservation efforts of local environmental
organizations. Yet, despite the fact that my personal commitment to avian conservation
has never waned, my research interests took an unforeseen and radical shift. It was
during my Anthropology of the Caribbean class that my attention was unexpectedly
drawn to what would eventually become my thesis topic.
One day, Dr. Gerald Murray, my Anthropology of the Caribbean professor,
revealed that he had just been commissioned to investigate recent allegations of Haitian
child trafficking across the Haiti-Dominican Republic border. According to these claims,
Haitian children were being smuggled into the Dominican Republic and forced to work
as domestic servants in Dominican homes. It was Dr. Murray's task to determine the
veracity of these appalling claims. As a native of the Dominican Republic, I was, at first,
embarrassed and hurt by these allegations. It was difficult to listen to such statements, as
they were detrimental to my feelings of national pride. In addition, I must admit that I
was angered at what seemed yet another international vilification of Dominicans and
victimization of Haitians. However, as Dr. Murray elaborated on the nature of what was
to be his next research endeavor, I experienced an epiphany of sorts. Haitian children, Dr.
Murray explained, were provided with food, clothing, shelter and schooling while living
in Dominican homes. In exchange, the children were required to carry out multiple
domestic chores. As some of my fellow classmates brought up such controversial issues
as child slavery, it dawned on me that these children were probably hijos or hya~s de
crianza or foster children, something I was very familiar with growing up and living in
the Dominican Republic. These children, I announced to the class, were possibly
involved in an arrangement that is quite common throughout the country. Dominican
parents will often place their children with other families in arrangements very similar to
what these Haitian children were experiencing. My comments elicited a very lively and
rich discussion regarding family systems, Haitian-Dominican relations, the definition of
slavery, among many other related topics.
Once the session drew to an end and I was walking out of the classroom, Dr.
Murray requested that I stay behind for a few minutes. After inquiring about my
Christmas travel plans, he asked whether I would be interested in conducting interviews
for him while I was visiting my family in Santo Domingo. Needless to say, I accepted.
We subsequently met to discuss and prepare my interview questions. Dr. Murray wanted
me to gather information regarding the hijo or hya~ de crianza arrangement I had
mentioned in class, as well as inquire about Haitian child domestic labor use.
Upon my arrival to Santo Domingo, I immediately initiated my inquiries. I
interviewed multiple people, including members of my family, neighbors and friends. I
also interviewed members of my husband's Peace Corps host family in a small mountain
hamlet on the southern part of the island. Before long, I realized that I had stumbled upon
the most fascinating issue possible. Not only did I discover that child relocation is a
common and widespread practice that transcends social class, but I also learned that it
operates systematically, in accordance to defined rules and norms. It requires that parents
provide food, clothing, shelter and schooling in exchange for labor on the part of the
child. The decision to relocate children, I would also leamn, is not a haphazard one.
Parents base their childrearing decisions on diverse motivating factors, with the child's
well-being being the ultimate goal. However, receiving parents, I was told, do not
always provide hijos de crianza with the quality of care they provide their biological
offspring. "Por mas que quieran decir que los tratan iguales, no es verdad,"ord~~~~~ddddd~~~~ "no
matter how much they want to say that they treat them the equally, it is not true," an
informant told me.l
Does differential childrearing occur? Are hijos de crianza in effect child domestic
laborers veiled in kinship terminology? What does this arrangement mean for Haitian
children? At that point, there was no turning back. Trying to answer these and many
other questions became somewhat of an obsession. My research topic had found me.
This thesis is about the Dominican practice of placing offspring outside the biological
home. It is about parenting and childrearing strategies. But most importantly, it is about
parents trying to find better lives for their children.
As I embarked upon a brand- new research topic, I discovered that child relocation
practices are not exclusive to the Dominican Republic. In fact, child fosterage practices
SAll translations are mine unless otherwise noted.
has been studied in various regions of the world and has been approached from several
Child Fosterage as a Topic of Inquiry
Child fosterage is the topic of several studies conducted in various regions of the
world. Most research efforts have examined the practice of relocating children from the
biological to the foster home as it occurs in West Africa (Alber, 2003, 2004; Bass, 2004;
Bledsoe & Isiugo-Abanihe, 1989; Desai, 1992, 1995; Eloundou-Enyegue & Stokes, 2002;
Goody, 1973; Isiugo-Abanihe, 1985; Page, 1989; Silk, 1987; Zimmerman, 2003) where it
"seems to be more common than in other parts of the world" (Alber, 2003, p. 487).
However, as I reviewed the available literature, I learned that child fosterage is practiced
throughout other areas of the globe and has been the subj ect of direct or indirect inquiry
in areas as diverse as Indonesia, Brazil, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Caribbean (Desai,
1992, 1995; Fog Olwig, 1999; International Labor Organization International Programme
on the Elimination of Child Labour [IPEC] 2003; Schrauwers 1999; Smucker & Murray,
2004). In regards to Hispaniolan practices, only the Haitian modality has received close
attention (Cadet, 1998; International Labor Organization International Programme on the
Elimination of Child Labour [IPEC], 2003; Smucker & Murray, 2004). However, despite
the fact that 14% of children under the age of 15 in the Dominican Republic do not live
with either biological parent (Centro de Estudios Sociales y Demograficos [CESDM],
2003), the practice has only received minimal attention. Only recently has it been the
topic of investigation (International Labor Organization International Programme on the
Elimination of Child Labour 2003; Smucker & Murray, 2004). Thus, much is yet to be
known about Dominican child fosterage.
As I reviewed the available child fosterage literature, several themes stood out.
The first had to do with the perspective author' s adopt in explaining the practice. Most
authors approached child relocation practices from a functionalist perspective. The
underlying assumption is that childrearing activities are universal. Parents throughout the
globe nurture, provide kinship identity, prepare children for an adult role and sponsor
children into the adult community, regardless of whether fosterage is carried out (Goody,
1973). However, in societies where fosterage is prevalent these activities are not
ascribed, that is, they are not tied to biological relationships. Rather, these roles are
bargained, exchanged and transferred to other individuals. Thus, to explain fosterage,
authors deconstruct parental and child roles into functional components in order to
analyze the manner in which parents exchange family or kinship roles. Fosterage, for
authors in this theoretical camp, is transactional in nature. Child relocation arrangements
involve the complete or partial exchange and/or transmission of the universal essentials
of social reproduction between different parties.
In broader terms, functionalist authors have approached fosterage from the
perspective of the various societal functions it fulfills (Desai, 1992; Eloundou-Enyengue
& Stokes, 2002; Zimmerman, 2003). For instance, fosterage is essential for the easement
of child-bearing costs as well as for subsidizing population growth. West African
parents, for instance, distribute childrearing burdens by placing offspring in other homes.
Similarly, fosterage practices diminish the child's risk of not attending school by
relocating children from rural areas with low school availability to more urban locations
with increased schooling opportunities (Desai, 1992; Eloundou-Enyengue & Stokes,
However, other authors challenge the functionalist approach. Alber (2003), for
instance, asserts that these perspectives assume that individuals carry out fosterage
negotiations with the conscious intent of fulfilling these societal functions when in fact
they are inherent to a particular parenting and family worldview. While the functionalist
approach is useful, fosterage needs to be studied nomothetically in order to understand
the practice as it is conceived by the practitioners themselves, Alber claims.
Consequently, he calls for an etic approach to the study of the practice.
Why Do Parents Give Up or Take In Children?
Another salient theme in the fosterage literature is the focus on understanding why
parents give up or take in other people's children (Isiugo-Abanihe, 1985; Silk, 1987).
Goody (1982) notes that parents in fosterage societies do not give their children to others
simply because they are devoid of emotional ties with biological offspring. In fact, Gonja
fosterage practices are firmly anchored in a kinship system that places great value on
parent and child duties, as well as on kinship. Parents in fosterage societies give up and
take in children for a variety of reasons and respond to many motivating factors. Goody
(1982) and later Page (1989)and Isiugo-Abanihe (1985) identified kinship, crisis,
alliance and apprentice, domestic, companionship, emotional support and educational
fostering as some of the reasons behind the fosterage decision.
Challenges to Traditional Family Models
The need to incorporate and consider child fosterage practices into research and
policy design is another key argument in the literature. Despite its prevalence and
relevance, child fosterage has not received sufficient attention, particularly in
demographic studies. For instance, Desai (1995) questions the traditional underlying
assumptions that claim that "parental resources available for children's consumption are
more or less fixed" (p. 195) and assume that the nuclear family structure is prevalent
throughout the world. Alber (2003) defends fosterage against the "common Euro-
American ideas about kinship" (p. 488). "Family structure must be treated as a social
outcome, as well as a biological one," Page asserts (1989, p. 444).
Another identifiable theme in the fosterage literature is the concern for child
differential treatment or the "Cinderella" effect, as Zimmerman (2003) puts it. Silk
(1987) addresses the issue by placing the kin selection and reciprocal altruism theory to
the test by examining West African fosterage practices. The kin selection and reciprocal
altruism theory are supported by the ample evidence of differential treatment, Silk
concludes. Zimmerman (2003), on the other hand, concludes that differential treatment in
regards to school attendance does not prevail among black South African foster children.
In fact, fosterage reduces "the risk of not attending school by up to 22 percent" (p. 558).
In regards to abusive differential treatment in Haitian fosterage arrangements, Jean-
Robert Cadet' s (1998) autobiographical work Restavek: From Haitian Slave Child to
M~iddle-Cla~ss American contributed significantly in calling attention to this abusive form
of fosterage and child labor. Smucker and Murray (2004) address the fosterage and
restavek2 issue as well in their study of Haitian child trafficking into the Dominican
Republic. They question whether Haitian children are being subjected to similar abusive
living conditions while in Dominican homes. Although differential and abusive
treatment is present in Haitian fosterage, the prevailing pattern in the Dominican
Republic is that of equitable or differential, yet humane treatment.
2 Restavek is the Haitian Creole term used to refer to patently abusive fosterage arrangements. The benign
form is called rete kay moun.
Fosterage as Child Labor
Finally, authors have approached the topic of child fosterage within the context of
child labor. Bass (2004) briefly describes fosterage practices through the child labor lens
in her work Child Labor in Sub-Salharan Afr~ica. Child fosterage is a fundamental
component of Sub-Saharan Africa's family system. Sending and receiving parents, Bass
concludes, do not perceive the work foster children are required to carry out as labor per
se. In fact, it is perceived as an integral component of their upbringing. Smucker and
Murray (2004) adopt a similar approach in their study of Haitian child trafficking. They
examine child fosterage practices and child labor within the context of the Dominican
and Haitian family systems.
The International Labor Organization Programme on the Elimination of Child
Labour' s 2003 study on Dominican child fosterage practices adopts a less nuanced and
more prescriptive approach. Child fosterage in the Dominican Republic is viewed from a
pathological perspective. The ILO claims that parents that take children into their homes
are in fact using kinship terms to disguise child domestic labor arrangements. Amongst
their recommendations is the inclusion of child fosterage in the list of one of the worst
forms of child labor and the creation of an educational campaign to discourage child
In regards to methodological approaches, child fosterage has been approached from
several methodological perspectives and in response to diverse research questions.
Authors approach the child fosterage topic from both ends of the qualitative-quantitative
Isiugo-Abanihe (1985), Page (1989), and Zimmerman (2003) selected an
exclusively quantitative research method approach for their works. In "Child fosterage in
West Africa," Isiugo-Abanihe (1985) calls for an inclusion of child fosterage practices
into demographic studies. Using the 1971 Supplementary Enquiry of the 1970 census of
Ghana, Isiugo-Abanihe attempts to provide empirical data to support the available
anthropological literature. Although the data set did not directly inquire about fosterage
practices, Isiugo-Abanihe was able to determine mother-child associations through the
use of multiple statistical methods. In this fashion, Isiugo-Abanihe provides descriptive
data such as a child's sex, age and rural-urban residence to empirically support the
available anthropological literature regarding the motivations to give up or take in
children. Similarly, Isiugo-Abanihe explores several maternal characteristics such as a
woman's age and education that might be influential in the decision to relocate children.
Similarly, Page (1989) relies on quantitative data to highlight the need to
incorporate child fosterage practices into demographic studies, particularly in regards to
those that deal with sub-Saharan African fertility. Page uses the World Fertility Survey
data which included both an Individual as well as a Household questionnaire. Contrary
to the data available to Isiugo-Abanihe (1985), Page's data did not require the complex
statistical measures to perform mother-child linking.
In "Cinderella Goes to School: The Effects of Child Fostering on School
Enrollment in South Africa," Zimmerman (2003) chooses exclusively quantitative
approaches to put previous qualitative studies to an empirical test. Specifically,
Zimmerman uses the 1993 South African Proj ect for Statistics on Living Standards and
Development to test whether or not the Cinderella effect, in effect, occurs among black
Other authors selected a combined approach, that is, one that incorporates both
quantitative and qualitative methodologies, to answer fosterage-related research
questions. First, Bledsoe and Isiugo-Abanihe (1989) carried out interviews, participant
observation, as well as a quantitative survey of 154 homes among the Mende in Sierra
Leone. As other fosterage scholars at the time, Bledsoe and Isiugo-Abanihe were
interested in incorporating the child fosterage topic into demographic studies as well as
challenging the prevalent notions regarding parenting and fertility decision-making in
In "Will Economic Crises in Africa Weaken Rural-Urban Ties? Insights from Child
Fosterage Trends in Cameroon," Eloundou-Enyengue and Stokes (2002) also employ
quantitative and qualitative data. They were interested in determining how variations in
economic prosperity in Africa affects rural to urban fosterage practices. To test this
hypothesis, the authors administered surveys to 812 randomly selected households in
Cameroon to female heads of households or to a randomly selected wife in polygynous
homes. In their survey, Eloundou-Enyengue and Stokes incorporate "a life-history
calendar" (p. 284) to record informant's "key demographic events" (p. 284). In addition,
they carried out thirteen focus groups to document informant's own perceptions on the
effects economic crises have had on fosterage practices.
In order to document the socio-demographic characteristics and prevalent attitudes
towards fosterage, the International Labor Organization's (2003) study used snowball
sampling to select its informants and carried out seventy in-depth, semi-structured
interviews, one focus group among adult domestic workers and another involving the
biological parents of child domestic laborers.
Alber (2003) relied on both qualitative and quantitative methods in his work
"Denying biological parenthood: Fosterage in Northern Benin" and in "Grandparents as
foster-parents: Transformations in foster relations between grandparents and
grandchildren in Northern Benin" (2004). Alber carried out quantitative surveys among
65 Baatombu people in order to obtain information on "their lives, family structure,
children and other data" (2004, p. 32). In-depth interviews and observations were carried
out in order to gather data to construct an emic perspective of social parenthood in
At the other end of the methodological continuum lie works that exclusively
employ qualitative research methods. Fog Olwig (1999), for instance, elicited life stories
from her informants to document experiences of children left with family members by
migrating parents. In doing so, Fog Olwig obtained "some data on the life courses that
people have lived; the socio-cultural order which they wish to establish in their life
stories, and their own particular understanding of themselves in this order" (p. 269). This
method, Fog Olwig asserts, provided her with "rich qualitative data on particular
individual's perspectives on life and their cultural values and social norms" (p. 269).
Schrauwers (1999), on the other hand, employed ethnographic methods to explore the
political economy of parental negotiation in central Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, is Smucker and Murray's 2004 study of
Haitian child trafficking between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Although they
acknowledge the need for quantitative approaches, the authors believe their research
goals were best served through qualitative field work. The existing paucity of data
regarding child domestic labor in Haiti and in the Dominican Republic required that they
conduct preliminary qualitative work to establish the pertinent variables that require
quantification. Smucker and Murray undertook a "systems analysis rather than a
hypothesis testing" (p. 5) approach in order to identify the components, as well as the
structures of a system that incorporates Haitian children as domestic laborers. Funding
and timing limitations were also maj or influential factors in Smucker and Murray's
Research Design and Methodological Choices
Given my particular situation, I conceptualized my research proj ect as a pilot study
to assess the feasibility of securing cooperation and consent in foster households for
carrying out research on a potentially sensitive topic. As Smucker and Murray (2004)
had done, I chose to adopt "systems analysis" (p. 5) approach to study the Dominican
child fosterage system. I chose to employ qualitative research methods to carry out an in
depth analysis of the operation of the child relocation system in operation. Like these
authors, I chose to focus on the operation of the fosterage system, identifying "the human
actors, material components, and flow circuits that make up the system" (p. 6). In
addition, I chose to pay close attention to the underlying reasons behind the parental
decision making process of giving up or taking in a child.
It was also my aim to determine the appropriate and relevant variables to be probed
in future research projects. Consequently, my study would be comparative in its focus,
yet qualitative in its methodology. I established two comparative axes to guide my
research and analysis:
* Foster children's living conditions as a group were compared to the living
conditions of biological children.
* The living conditions of Haitian foster children were compared to those of
Dominican foster children.
Consequently, I established the following research hypotheses:
* H1. As a group, foster children living with Dominican families will enj oy less
favorable living conditions than those of biological children.
* H2. As a group, Haitian foster children living with Dominican families will enj oy
less favorable living conditions than those of biological children.
In making my methodological choices, several questions surfaced. First, what was
the best way of gathering data given the delicate nature of my topic? How was I going to
get strangers to speak to me about this matter? What was the best way to minimize my
risk of having incomplete and/ or unreliable data (Bernard, 2002, p. 334)? Additionally,
what was the best way of reducing reactivity, that is, "people changing their behavior
when they know they are being studied" (p. 334)? Ideally, I would have a year at my
chosen sight to develop trust and rapport with informants. Unfortunately, I only had six
After considering my limitations as well as the previous literature on the topic, I
selected three qualitative research methods for my project. First, I would conduct semi-
structure interviews using a previously constructed interview guide. This method seemed
best, since I would probably only have one time to interview each informant. Semi-
structured interviewing would allow me to make the most efficient use of my time.
Second, I would carry out focus groups with homogeneous members as a way to
supplement the information I gathered in the interviews (Bernard, 2002). Finally, I
would conduct participant observation in each foster home to gain firsthand knowledge of
child living conditions.
I would select three types of informants to gather my data. First, I would contact
and interview relevant community members, such as school teachers, school counselors,
Peace Corps volunteers and members of the clergy. These individuals would be my
secondary informants. Although they might not be, at the time, involved in fosterage
arrangements, they might still be able to provide me with significant information
regarding past and current practices in their communities. Additionally, it was my hope
that these informants would connect me to individuals that were currently involved in
fosterage arrangements in one way or the other. Secondly, I hoped to gather information
from retrospective primary informants. These were adults who were formerly involved
in fosterage arrangements, whether they were former children themselves, foster siblings,
or sending or receiving parents. Finally, I intended to interview current primary
informants, that is, foster children, their biological and foster parents and siblings, that
were currently and directly involved in a fosterage arrangement. I would rely on the
snowball sampling effect to gain access to my informants. I would conduct my
interviews in Spanish and I would use an interpreter for interviews in Haitian Creole.
Finally, I would give school supplies to the children as a token of appreciation for their
It was of central importance that I operationalize several key concepts prior to
conducting fieldwork. First, I needed to define the basis of my comparative analysis-
child living conditions. Table 1 summarizes the factors that make up this measure. To
construct my child living conditions variable, l used Goody's (as cited in Page, 1989)
universal elements of social reproduction to guide my conceptualization- provision of
civil and kinship identity status, nurturance, training for an adult role and sponsorship
into the adult community. By examining the presence or absence of these universal
components or the degree to which parents fulfilled these roles, I would be able to gauge
the child's living condition, as well as get a sense as to the degree parents fulfilled their
parental responsibilities Nonetheless, given the limited amount of resources and time, I
chose to focus on nurturance and training as the key indicators of my index. The final
component- sponsorship into the adult role- would only be relevant for secondary
primary informants, that is, for former foster children that have already reached
Table 1-1. Living Conditions Indicator
Social Reproduction Element Indicator
1. Physical needs
Nourishment Quality as compared to other members of the household;
composition, frequency of meals; quality of ingredients
Clothing Quality of clothing
Sleeping arrangements Physical location of bedroom within the household
Quality of the bed
Sleeps alone or shares a bed
Presence of comfort items mosquito net, fan, air condition
Overall quality of sleeping arrangement
Private vs. public health care- clinic vs. public hospital
Medicine purchases similar to the rest of the household
Overall appearance of child health
Play opportunities; type of play opportunities; presence of toys
Use of kinship terminology
Participates in family activities
Physical displays of affection
Verbal displays of affection- use of affective terms.
Public vs. private
More vs less expensive school
Quality of school
Nature of training received
Type of labor required
Quantity (number of hours)
2. Emotional needs
Incorporation into foster household
C. Child responsibilities
Domestic labor requirements
As Panel A in Table 1 reveals, the nurturance element of social reproduction is
made up of two components, the first of which is the provision of a child' s physical
needs. For this measure, I would look at nourishment levels, clothing, sleeping
arrangements, health care, and recreation. The specific indicators for each category are
provided in panel B. The second component is the satisfaction of a child's emotional
needs. Although there is no substitute for extended periods of time to determine whether
or not a child is getting his or her emotional needs fulfilled, I believe it was important to
notice the nature of the affective relationship between parents and children as well as the
employment of kinship terminology.
The second social reproduction component I would be paying close attention was
that of training into an adult role. In their study, Smucker and Murray (2004) point out
that the provision of schooling is a critical aspect in the Dominican fosterage system.
"There is a strong emphasis on the obligation of receiving households to send relocated
children to school," the authors state (p. 82). Thus, I would pay close attention to this
element. The indicators of this component are also specified in Table 1. In addition, I
would observe whether children received other forms of non-academic training.
Finally, of particular relevance to my living condition variable are the child's work
schedules in the foster home. I would attempt to gather information on the types of work
a child has to perform, as well as the amount that is required.
Who is an Hijo(a) de Crianza?
Of crucial importance to my study was that I designate who I would consider an
hijo de crianza or a foster child. In her work, Goody (1973) does so by establishing that
fosterage does not involve a permanent termination or relinquishing of the "rights or
duties in order to assume a new set, no change in the kinship terms between the people
involved, and no permanent change of status in any sense" (p. 181). Thus, to Goody, a
foster child is a child being raised by another family but that still retains their biological
parent's legal identity. Smucker and Murray (2004), on the other hand, conceptualize the
practice in broader terms, that is, as the placement of children outside the biological
home. The International Labor Organization (2003), however, does not establish a clear-
cut definition. They approach the issue in terms of whether or not children are
performing domestic labor in what they call "hogares de terceros (p. 15) or third party
homes, that is, in homes where neither one of their biological parents reside.
Given the lack of in depth information regarding the Dominican child fosterage
system and the exploratory nature of my proj ect, I decided to start out by defining a foster
child as someone that is not being raised by either one of the biological parents. My
sample would include children from ages 10 to 18 years of age.
The Realities of Fieldwork- Reconsidering Interview Strategies
Despite all my pre-fieldwork preparations, I soon learned that one can never
anticipate the realities of the field. I came to this realization the moment I was getting
ready for my first interview with Jose Luis, a former foster child who I had been told had
experienced particularly difficult times while living in his aunt' s home. As I was
preparing for this interview, I gathered what I thought were the indispensable
ethnographic fieldwork elements. I took multiple pens, in case one of them would run
out, my notebook to take notes during the interview, my interview guide, a tape recorder,
and extra batteries. However, as I was getting ready to interview Jose Luis, I soon
realized that I needed to readjust my research plan. I needed to reassess my interview
approach. The fact that I was about to speak to someone about painful childhood
experiences made me recognize that I could not approach this task as a conventional
question and answer session. I needed to create an environment that would make Jose
Luis and the rest of my informants feel as comfortable as possible. Thus, I adopted an
active approach to my interviews.
In adopting an active interview approach, I focused my attention on making my
interviews not seem like interviews at all. Although I was always explicit about my
research purposes, I adopted measures that made the interview a more relaxed and
informal process. First, I abandoned my pens and notebooks and eliminated note-taking
during the interviews. Having constant eye contact, I felt, was essential in making my
informants feel comfortable and relaxed. What is more, this allowed me to observe facial
gestures, mannerisms and emotional expressions, elements that are crucial in gauging
emotions. However, since I felt that it was important that I capture all that was said
during the interviews, I chose to use my tape recorder, but always with my informant' s
consent. As soon as my interviews ended and I was alone, I wrote down my notes and
The second measure I took to promote a relaxed environment was to create what
Holstein and Gubrium (1995) refer to "as an occasion for narrative production" (p. 28).
Thus, I chose not follow my interview guide in the way I had initially planned. I used it
more as a game plan to steer respondents "in characterizing experience, interpretive
incitements and themes for storytelling" (p. 29). I was careful to allow and foster a
natural flow of themes and topics.
In trying to create a relaxed environment for my informants, I used my own cultural
knowledge and experiences. As a native Dominican, I tapped into my own abilities and
upbringing in the Dominican art of conversation. For instance, I engaged in a sort of
small talk before initiating any sort of questioning on fosterage related topics. Also, I
would refrain from commencing the interview until my informants and I had finished
having the traditional cafecito or cup of coffee. Other more intangible factors, such as
maintaining a relaxed posture and demeanor, helped in creating an ambience that
promoted a more conversation-like exchange.
The realities of Hieldwork also made me adjust my living conditions indicator.
Once again, the timing constraints that prevented me from developing trust with my
informants made it difficult to ask questions about certain topics. Quite frankly,
inquiring about certain topics during my first encounter with an informant would be
impolite. As a result, I chose to forego asking questions about components such as
Despite these unforeseen changes, I believe that overall, my efforts to create fluid,
comfortable situations were successful. With few exceptions, I believe I was able to
collect high quality data, despite my time and resource limitations. However, this was
not the case with child informants. In that regard, my analyses have a gaping void.
Although I was able to interview seventeen children, I do not believe I was able to gather
quality information on their fosterage experiences.
My interviews with children were limited by several factors. The first and most
obvious is the fact that I did not have the adequate time to develop the trusting
relationships required to gather information on a delicate topic such as this. Secondly, I
was not always able to speak to children alone. Parents would sometimes choose to be
present during our conversations. Thus, a child would most likely not reveal abusive
treatment while in the presence of a potential abuser. On other occasions, the spacial
layouts of the homes I visited posed additional obstacles. Many of the houses were quite
small, making privacy virtually impossible. Even if I was allowed to be alone with a
child, others were able to listen to what was being said.
This thesis is based on the fieldwork I conducted during a six week period during
the summer of 2003. My inquiries on child fosterage practices took me to seven towns in
the Dominican Republic. I interviewed informants in Santo Domingo, as well as in the
neighboring towns of Yamasa and Villa Altagracia. As I was concerned with fosterage
arrangements that involved the taking in of Haitian children into Dominican homes, I
traveled to the Haitian-Dominican border towns of Loma de Cabrera, Daj abon and
Restauracion. In addition, I visited San Jose de Ocoa, a mountain town in the
southwestern part of the country, as well as two of its satellite villages. To protect the
identities of the residents, I will refer to these two hamlets as Loma Dura and La Sierra.
I did a word-for-word transcription of my tape recorded interviews and translated
them into English. As will become clear, analysis of the exact words of people opens the
door to cultural construals and cultural distinctions that might not be obvious to an
outsider. Subsequently, I identified and analyzed the relevant categories and themes.
Due to time and space limitations, I selected excerpts from only a selection of interviews.
My research design is a result of multiple factors. After reviewing the
methodological decisions made by other fosterage researchers and evaluating the
advantages and disadvantages I would face by adopting similar approaches, I concluded
that a qualitative research method approach was the most adequate. The lack of in-depth
research on Dominican fosterage systems and my resource and time constraints made this
the most advisable choice. By choosing a system analysis approach, I was able to better
understand a system that has received little attention in scholarly literature. My initial
methodological choices, however, had to be adapted to the realities of data collection in
the field. The sensitivity of the topic I was inquiring about required that I adopt an active
interview approach. However, although it proved to be effective with my adult
informants, it did not prove sufficient to overcome the obstacles of interviewing children.
The following chapters focus on the results of my fieldwork. In Chapter 1 and 2, I
describe the Dominican hilo de crianza system. Using vivid excerpts from my
interviews, I provide the insights I gained about the child relocation system- its
modalities, actors, rules and norms. As other authors, I frame the practice in terms of the
exchange or transfer of parental and filial rights and responsibilities between the sending
and receiving parents, as well as of the child. The Dominican child fosterage system has
very specific rules and terms that dictate the manner in which parents give up or take in
children. Thus, in Chapter 1, I compare and contrast the two basic modalities that govern
the manner in which children are relocated- prestttttttttttttttttados or regalads. In Chapter 2, I
present the different rights and responsibilities assigned to each one of these actors.
Like other fosterage authors, I was concerned with understanding the reasons that
prompt parents to give up or take in children. During my fieldwork, I observed several
patterns in my informant' s responses. Chapter 3 focuses on this topic. As Goody had
done in regards to Ghanaian fosterage, I conclude that parents are not detached and
unconcerned. In fact, fosterage choices are made in an incessant attempt to find better
living conditions for children. The hijo de crianza system is often the only means by
which parents can achieve this goal.
In Chapters 4 and 5, I address the Cinderella effect, that is, the question of
differential treatment. Chapter 4 focuses on my first research hypothesis. I examine
whether foster children in effect enjoy less favorable living conditions than biological
children in the home. Chapter 5 addresses the Cinderella effect, but does so in bi-ethnic
fosterage arrangements. I compare the living conditions of Haitian foster children living
in Dominican homes with those of Dominican foster children in Dominican homes. This,
as I will later elaborate, was not an easy task. Thus, my conclusions in this regard are
limited. Nonetheless, I am able to draw conclusions that can be of use for future, more
in-depth research endeavors. Finally, in Chapter 7 I attempt to summarize my findings
and place them in a broader theoretical context.
"LENDING" CHILDREN VS "GIVING AWAY" CHILDREN: THE OUTLINES OF
DOMINICAN CHILD RELOCATION
Yo soy su mamad. Ello a quien tienen como su mamad e a mi or I am their mother. I
am whom they consider their mother.
Growing up as a member of Santo Domingo's middle class, I paid close attention to
women' s hands, one of the many subtle, yet revealing indicators of socioeconomic class.
A woman's hands must be delicate, carefully manicured, and must never reveal a hint of
domestic work. This is why one of the first things I noticed about Doha Melania, a
woman in her late seventies from the small border town of Restauraci6n, were her hands.
Unlike the polished nails of a middle class doha or lady, Doha Melania' s nails were
chafed and ridden with mancha de pla~tano, the residue from peeling plantains. Doha
Melania's hands spoke of a life fraught with cooking, cleaning, laundry and all other
plights of being a wife and mother.
When I spoke with Doha Melania, I found that her personal narrative reinforced the
one I saw in her hands. Doha Melania' s life had indeed been saturated with domestic
chores. Raising fourteen children without spousal support, she revealed, required
nothing less than magic. To support her family, Doha Melania would sell produce at the
local market. What a formidable task, I told her, to bear and raise fourteen children on
her own. "No, pero yo no lo pari a todito, or "No, I did not give birth to all of them,"
she corrected. "Yo pari siete pero lo crid a todito, "or "I gave birth to seven, but I raised
all of them myself," she added.
Understanding Doha Melania's family structure required some thought on my part.
It took Doha Melania reiterations of names and relationships before I could finally
understand the convoluted branches on her family tree. Doha Melania raised her seven
biological offspring. But she raised three of her grandchildren- Belkys, who is in Santo
Domingo attending college, as well as Jonathan and Jeffry, who still live with her.
Manuel, Nidia, Tita and Fior, who were the children of "am''''~~~~~~'''''istadet de cuando yo taba
chiquita" or "friends from when I was a little girl" were raised by Doha Melania. All of
Doha Melania' s children are married and have children of their own.
Doha Melania' s life story of persistent childrearing brought forth several questions.
Why would Doha Melania multiply her childrearing responsibilities when she already
had a heavily burdened life? Why weren't Doha Melania' s grandchildren living with
their own mothers? I posed these and other questions to Doha Melania during our
interview in the living room of her Restauraci6n home. Her response, proved to be
"Porque yo soy su mamad. Ello a quien tienen como su mamad e a mi. .. Yo soy la
reponsable de eso do ni~o. Ella [her daughter] lo pario, pero depud yo soy la que
me he encargado de todo de ello. "
"Because I am their mother. I am whom they consider their mother. .. I am
responsible for these children. She [her daughter] gave birth to them but I am the
person that has been in charge of everything related to them."
Situations like Doha Melania' s, where families raise other people' s children, are
commonplace throughout the Dominican Republic. "Cada dominicano conoce a alguien
en estos casos," or "Every Dominican knows someone that is involved in one of these
arrangements," the Undersecretary of Labor revealed in a surprisingly apologetic tone3
3 The Undersecretary of Labor, I learned, had a very active role in the funding of Un studio exploratorio
sobre el trabajo infantil domdstico en hogares de terceros en la Repziblica Dominicana: Esto no es un
during an interview we sustained in Santo Domingo, "Es una culture muy arraigada," or
"It is engrained in our culture." He was right, I concurred. I had witnessed many such
cases, including some that involved members of my own circle of friends and family, as I
grew up and lived in the Dominican Republic. The 2002 Dominican Republic
Demographic and Health Survey results agreed, as well (Centro de Estudios Sociales y
Demograficos [CESDEM], 2003). They indicated that 14.2% of Dominican children
under fifteen years of age do not reside with either one of their biological parents.
As commonplace as situations like Doha Melania' s are, I found that what is known
of this practice that customarily relocates thousands of Dominican children from one
home to another is surprisingly minute. "El ca~so de los hijos de crianza no se consider
en nuestros cddigos," or "Child fosterage is not an issue that is dealt with in our legal
codes," affirmed the Undersecretary of Labor. "El Cddigo de Proteccian de Nihos,
Niha~s y Adolecentes tiene una partecita que lo menciona, or "There is only a small
section in the Codigo de Nihos, Nina~sy Adolescentes that briefly mentions it4," he added.
Needless to say, this information vacuum, particularly in the Dominican child protection
codes, was shocking. How such a pervasive practice was only briefly touched upon in
one of the country's major pieces of legislation was puzzling. If the Dominican legal
system does not address it, what rules if any, regulate this practice and how are they
enforced? Are children randomly relocated from one home to the other?
juego! or An exploratory study of child domestic labor in third party homes in the Dominican Republic:
This is not a game!, which condemned the hijo de crianza practice (International Labor Organization
International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour, 2003).
SAfter nw interview, I bought a copy of the newly enacted Codigo de Nillos, Ninas y 4dolescentes (2003)
or New code for the protection of boys, girls and adolescents to confirm what I had just heard. To nw
surprise, the newly enacted code that had received wide acclaim for being the first set of laws that
exclusively dealt with children' s issues indeed only makes brief mention of the practice.
Fieldwork revealed that in fact, child relocation is not carried out in a haphazard
manner. On the contrary, parents place children in other peoples' homes in a systematic
manner and they follow very specific rules. It is a practice that operates under a complex
set of rules that assigns rights and responsibilities to all parties involved and it possesses
checks and balances to ensure child welfare. As fieldwork progressed it became clear
that this practice appears frequent enough to be classified as a maj or component of
Dominican family organization.
In this opening chapter, I will begin a description of the Dominican hilo de crianza
system by identifying, comparing and contrasting two basic but distinct modalities in
which the child and both sets of parents shift and redirect their rights and responsibilities
as members of a kin group. I start my description with one of my most knowledgeable
Nora, one of my first informants, was crucial to my understanding of the
"institutionalized delegation" (Goody, 1982, p. 23) of parental duties. She was the first
person to spell out the structure and rules of the hijo de crianza system. It was Nora who
clarified a critical distinction. Families can give up children in two basic ways- prestttttttttttttttttado
or regalad. In other words, parents can lend children out or give them away. My visit
with Nora was essential to my understanding of parental guardianship transfers in the
Loans vs. Gifts- Child Relocation Modalities
Nora is a nurse's assistant in Loma Dura, a remote coffee growing hamlet hidden
away in a nook in the mountains east of San Jose de Ocoa. Over three hundred families
from this and other surrounding communities rely on Nora' s limited medical expertise for
all their health care needs. In spite of her official government assignment, she frequently
performs procedures that by far surpass her formal training. Among other things, she
prescribes medication, sutures gaping wounds, and performs pap smears. Hence, Nora
knows everyone and everyone knows her. This, and her exceptionally pragmatic outlook
on life, made Norys one of my most valuable informants.
One night, as we sat in her candle-lit living room, I asked Nora to speak to me
about what criar un niho o una niha was, as the fosterage agreement is commonly
referred to. Her hypothetical response using her son Norbertico, shed light on the two
fundamental ways in which parental guardianship is relinquished in the Dominican
Tess: Nora, iqud es eso de criar muchachos? Cuando la gente dice "estoy
criando un muchacho ", iqud significa eso?
Nora: Por ejemplo, si yo no tengo recursos para darled~~~~ddddd~~~~dddd a Norbertico [her son]
para yo criarlo, para yo darled~~~~ddddd~~~~dddd su educacidn, para comprarle su ropa y yo veo que
tu puedes, yo te digo, "Llivatelo, pero no es tuyo! Es sin papeles. Es prestttttttttttttttttado "
Es que yo no puedo tenerlo y es para que tu lo eduques y le de su manuntencidn y
le de su ropa y su zapatos. Mayormente, las personas que hacen eso es con ese
propdsito. Que lo eduquen.
Tess: iCdmo es eso de presttttttttttttttttado? iY si tu quieres que yo te lo devuelva?
Nora: Depende de Il. Porque si 41 esta en tu casa y tu lo tienes desde chiquito,
entonces ~I te va cogiendo cariho a ti y me perdid el cariho a mi. Entonces, yo voy
a tu casa y digo, "Norbertico, vdmonos para mi casa que yo soy tu mamd,
depend de Il. Si 41dice: "No, yo estoy mejor aqui Donde Tess, yo me voy a
quedardddddddd~~~~~~~~~ aqui, entonces, la decision es ~I que la toma. "
Tess: Nora, what is the child fosterage thing all about? What does it mean when
people say that they are fostering a child?
Nora: For instance, if I Don't have money to give to Norbertico, to raise him, to
give him an education, to buy him his clothes and I can see that you do, I will tell
you 'Take him, but he's not yours! It's without papers. It's a loan!' It means that I
can't support him and I want you to educate him and support him. I want you to
give him his clothes and his shoes. Mostly, people do it with that purpose in mind-
to get him educated.
Tess: What do you mean a loan? What happens if you want me to give him back to
Nora: It depends on him. Because if he' s at your house and you've had him since
he was very small, then he's going to start loving you and loosing affection towards
me. Then, when I go to your house and say, "Norbertico, come to my home
because I am your mother," it all depends on him. If he says, "No, I am better off
here with Tess. I am going to stay here," then he makes up his own mind.
"Prestado" or "Lent" Children- Temporary Parental Guardianship Transfers
Nora' s concise response articulated the terms and conditions of the prestttttttttttttttttado or lent
fosterage agreement. She described a transaction that involves the exchange of
childrearing duties. Were Nora to entrust me with Norbertico' s care she would be
assigning me specific childrearing responsibilities and relinquishing her parental
authority to me. Were I to accept, I would be pledging to provide him with food,
clothing, shelter, shoes and an education. In other words, I would be responsible of
providing him with what Goody (1982) called nurturance, training and sponsorship.
Despite this parental guardianship transaction, Nora would not be losing her
parental rights and obligations in their entirety. Norbertico, as Nora clarifies, is
"prestttttttttttttttttad" or lent. What' s more, he has been "lent" to me "sin papll es"~\` or without legal
documentation'. Consequently, Nora would still preserve specific parental duties. First,
Nora would provide her son's civil and kinship identity (Goody 1982), that is, he would
retain his biological parents' surnames. Secondly, Nora would still preserve her right to
nurture her relationship with Norbertico. Finally, Nora would retain the right to
supervise and terminate the agreement at any time.
5 The "papeles" Nora mentions refer to the legal process where parents record a child's birth at the
"Oficialia Civil" or the Civil Registry. These papeles, are of critical importance in fosterage arrangements,
particularly for the resolution of custody disputes. These papeles, I would later discover, are of crucial
importance in fosterage arrangements that involve Haitian children.
Prestado Fosterage in a Global Perspective
A review of the literature clearly indicates that that prestttttttttttttttttado fosterage
arrangements, though called by different names, are not unique to the Dominican
Republic. In their study of Cameroonian fosterage practices, Eloundou-Enyengue and
Stokes (2002), describe a similar arrangement. Fosterage in Cameroon, like in the
Dominican Republic, involves "a transfer of guardianship of one's children to another
individual or family" on a "temporary, partial" basis (p. 279). Cameroonian biological
parents retain the right to supervise and terminate the arrangement at any time. In
addition, offspring retain the biological parents' surname.
Nevertheless, despite the similarities, one can see significant differences between
both countries. According to the authors, fosterage arrangements in Cameroon
sometimes involve the sharing of childrearing costs between biological and foster
parents. The Dominican system, on the other hand, does not. On the contrary, biological
parent contributions, I later discovered, are often viewed as conflictive challenges to
parental custody and authority. That is, in the Dominican Republic the hijo de crianza
system clearly delimits the rights and obligations of all the parties involved- the foster
parents, the biological parents and the child.
Regalado or Given Away- Permanent Parental Guardianship Transfers
But a second modality of child relocation quickly surfaced. That night, as I
continued my exchange with Nora, she spoke of another way in which children are
placed in other homes. Families also give up their children in what Nora referred to as
"regalad" or "given away" terms. What are differences between regalad and
prestttttttttttttttttado? In the following excerpt Nora explains the differences between each modality.
La diferencia es que el que lo re gala no tiene derecho. Tod'avia tiene derecho
porque es prestttttttttttttttttado Porque prestadatttt~~~~~~tttttt es para que la eduquen y regalada es cuand'o
unos padres tienen pocos recursos, que tienen cuatro o cinco muchachos que no
trabajan, es que ellos lo regalan.
The difference is that if you give him or her away, you no longer have rights. If
you lend your child, you still have rights. You lend them so that they can get an
education. You give them away when parents have very little resources, when they
have four or five kids and they Don't work. That is when you give them away.
The regalado fosterage arrangement Nora describes constitutes what in effect is an
adoption, albeit an extra-legal one. In regalado agreements, biological parents
permanently transfer all their parental rights and responsibilities. Contrary to the
prestttttttttttttttttado agreement, a child that is given away acquires the receiving family's civil and
kinship identity. Biological parents, in addition, surrender their right to supervise the
childrearing process, rendering foster parents unaccountable for their childrearing
actions. When a biological parent gives a child away, they are supposed to rescind their
right to reclaim their child or terminate the agreement. Under this arrangement, biological
parents must halt any and all relationships with their offspring.
Prestado Versus Regalado
Stated in other terms, what had surfaced in this interview was an explicit lexical
distinction between two modes of giving and taking children. This fascinating lexical
distinction, I hypothesized, may indicate the presence of a cultural "menu" in which not
only is child relocation a prominent child-rearing menu-item, but that this relocation
option had two distinct traj ectories, two contrasting clusters of rules and practices. After
my conversation with Nora, I decided to examine her view of the similarities and
differences between both modalities.
First, it was obvious that both fosterage modalities have multiple similarities.
Both types of agreements involve the physical relocation of children. Children,
regardless of whether they are prestttttttttttttttttado or regalad, must undergo a change of residence.
Second, both types of relocation agreements involve the delegation of essential
childrearing duties. Once a foster parent acquires a child, they must continue with the
task of providing food, clothing, education and shelter. Third, both arrangements entail
an exchange of costs and benefits between all parties involved. Fourth, although these
arrangements can be informal (sin papeles or without papers), both sets of parents
establish which of the modalities is in effect. Finally, foster children in both types of
agreements arrive into their new home as members of the receiving family's intimate kin
Despite similarities, each relocation mode nonetheless has its own peculiarities.
First, the rules of the game in the prestadott~~~~~tttt~~~~ arrangement are, in general, tacit. Although
Nora clearly articulated the rules that regulate prestttttttttttttttttado relocation, they are rarely, if ever,
made explicit. Were I to take Norbertico into my home, Nora and I would not need to
discuss our individual obligations. In contrast, permanent regalad relocation terms are
explicitly laid on the table, particularly by the receiving family. Second, prestttttttttttttttttado
arrangements are extra-legal, that is, they are not legal, but they are not illegal either. In
contrast, the mechanisms employed by families to carry out permanent or regalado
custody transfers are, in theory, punishable under the Nuevo Codigo de Nihos, Niha~s y
Adolescentes (2003) or New code for the protection of boys, girls and adolescents.
Third, prestttttttttttttttttado arrangements, as Nora explained, do not sever the biological and parent
and child relationship. Since sending parents maintain a supervisory role over the
childrearing process, as well as the right to terminate the agreement at any given moment,
prestttttttttttttttttado children will, in effect, possess two sets of parents one biological and another
foster. Regalad children, on the other hand, fail to enjoy the costs and benefits
associated with dual-sided parenting. The final distinction has to do with the child's civil
and kinship identity. Prestttttttttttttttttado children retain their biological family's identity.
Regalad children do not. Regalad children will officially or non-officially acquire
their foster family's kinship identity, that is, with or without papeles.
As I continued to ponder the prestttttttttttttttttado and regalad arrangement terms, I decided
to dissect the similarities and differences I had established. I initially focused on what I
considered to be the backbone of the hijo de crianza system. I looked at the childrearing
duties themselves that is, at the contributions which receiving parents are required to
provide to foster children
Foster Parent Responsibilities
The delegation of childrearing obligations has been amply explored in the
worldwide fosterage literature. Goody (1982) addressed the issue she referred to as "the
delegation of the nurturance and/or educational elements of the parental role" (p. 23) in
Northern Ghana. Her accounts of the fosterage practices she encountered, I found,
closely resemble the prestadott~~~~~tttt~~~~ arrangements in the Dominican Republic. Ghanaian
parents also require that foster parents provide children with subsistence essentials like
food, clothing and shelter, as well as training and sponsorship. Foster parents in Ghana,
according to Goody, are required to provide children with schooling or any other form of
instruction that will prepare the child for an adult role.
Isiugo-Abanihe (1985) also addressed the transmission of childrearing duties in his
study of the practice in several West African countries. However, his work frames the
delegation in economic, rational terms. Biological parents, according to the author,
transfer the economic costs of childbearing to the receiving family. In this manner,
families can alleviate and redistribute the burden of raising large families.
Foster Parent Childrearing Duties- The Hijo de Crianza Case
As in other countries, the Dominican hijo de crianza system involves a covenant
that establishes specific obligations. Isabel, a middle-aged woman I interviewed in San
Jose de Ocoa, spoke to me about the profound commitment that foster parents assume
when they take a child under their care.
One of the first places I visited during my fieldwork was San Jose de Ocoa. Ocoa,
as it is commonly referred to, is a charming, yet raucous town that requires periods of
sensory decompression. The parque or park, the town' s geographical center, provides
shaded respites from the sun and the town' s swarms of motoconchos or mopeds, the main
source of transportation. The parque also dominates the town's economic, political and
social activities. It is in the park' s perimeter that all the major businesses, government
offices and churches are located. Ocoa's major economic activity, however, is coffee
production, as well as of other crops like beans or pigeon peas and potatoes. Interspersed
against government offices and banks are smaller bars and cafeterias.
Isabel, one of the first people I interviewed in Ocoa, lives very close to the parque,
in Barrio San Joaquin, one of the town' s poorer sections. Isabel and her husband have a
very small colmado or convenience store in what used to be the living room of their
house. A thin, printed curtain is the only item that divides their business from their
private lives. Isabel and her husband live well, according to Barrio San Antonio
standards. Their house is made of cinder block, a sign of certain affluence amongst lower
status homes that are made of wood. However, their home does not have a plato or
cement roof, one of the many architectural indicators of economic prosperity. Isabel's
roof is still made of tin.
I was especially interested in speaking to Isabel for two reasons. First, she had
raised Jose, a young man I interviewed in Santo Domingo and I was eager to obtain her
perspective on his life narrative. Secondly, I had heard that Isabel had another foster
child. I corroborated what I had heard when I arrived at her house. When I met Isabel,
she had a baby boy cradled in her arms.
In typical Dominican fashion, Isabel immediately offered me a seat and some
coffee. We sat towards the back of the house, away from the street noise and from the
colmado or small convenience store. Yet, Isabel strategically placed her own chair where
she could pay attention to me, as well as to any incoming customers. She set a small
blanket on the floor, where she carefully laid the baby down when she had to get up and
tend to customers.
As soon as I was done with my coffee, I told Isabel that I was conducting research
on families that were raising other people's children. Since she had raised Jose and was
currently raising the baby in her arms, I was interested in learning about her experiences.
I started by inquiring about the circumstances surrounding the baby she cradled in her
arms. "The child is going to live with me", she explained. "I brought him here since he
was an itty-bitty baby," she added. "I brought him here immediately after his mother' s
rezos". He was less than seventeen days old." The baby's father, she explained, decided
to have Isabel, his uncle's wife, raise his son instead of doing it himself. "His father tells
6 Rezos are memorial services immediately after a person's death. The child's mother had died.
me that he will never separate him from me because this child is going to feel love for
me. If they separate him from me, he is going to suffer a lot."
I continued by asking Isabel what criar un niho was or what it meant to be raising
someone else's child. Her response, in the following excerpt, exposed the momentous
nature of the arrangement.
Tess: 4 Qud es criar un niho?
Isabel: Oh, para mi la crianza de un niho es una cosa muy important. Porque es
una responsabilidd~~~ddd~~~dddad que uno asume muy grande. La crianza de un niho tiene uno
que asumir bueno, como le digo, las veces de una madre. Por lo menos, el que
tiene un niho tiene que saber de todo lo que necesite un ni~o. Desde alimentacidn,
medicina, cariho, en primer lugar, lo mds important en la crianza de un niho es el
carino, el cuidadoddddddddd~~~~~~~~ porque mire, yo tengo este niho. Pero este niho lo que
verdaderamente~~~ddd~~ddd~~ necesita es cariho y atendencia. Eso es lo mds important.
Porque despues que uno dice voy a criar un niho, tiene que saber que tiene que
asumir la responsabilid~~~ddd~~~dddadd desde que comienza, un studio una educacidn, i usted
ve? Uno tiene que asumir las responsabilid~~~ddd~~~dddades de un padre. Como si fuera su
verddddddddddddddddader pd re Porque si usted se hizo, se comprometid a criarlo, tiene que
saber que va asumir la responsabili~dd~~ddadddddddd deunpadre. .. Pero ya ese niho yo lo
voy a criar igual que los que yo pari. Porque ya ese, yo le voy a ir danddddd~~~~~~~ddddddo la
Tess: What is criar un niho?
Isabel: Oh, for me rearing a child is a very important thing. Because it is a very
big responsibility one assumes. One must assume .. How can I say? One must
take on the role of a mother when one is rearing a child. At least, the person that
has a child has to provide everything that child needs, like nourishment, medicine,
affection. The most important thing in rearing a child is affection. But what this
baby needs the most is affection and attention. That is the most important thing.
Because after one says that you are going to raise a child, you have to be aware that
you have to assume the responsibility of an education from early on. You see?
One must assume the responsibilities of a parent, as if you were a real parent. If
you made the commitment to raise the child, you have to assume the
responsibilities of a parent. .. But I am going to raise him the same way as I
raised the ones I gave birth to. I am going to give him my habits.
Isabel's brief response succinctly describes several features of the foster parent
role. First, Isabel's recurrent choice of the word responsibility indicates the existence of
a serious agreement between the baby's father and herself. Second, the "responsibility"
she emphasizes requires that she satisfy the baby's physical and emotional needs. As she
stated, she must feed, love and care for the child, especially during illnesses. In sum,
Isabel said it best when she declared that to be a foster mother, she must act as mother.
And she ends with a rule that would provoke suspiciously raised eyebrows among social
scientists: She insists that she is forbidden from making any distinction between the
adopted child and her own biological children. This latter point is of central importance.
The hypothesis formulation of many outside analysts tends to predict differential
treatment between biological and relocated children. Isabel stated just the opposite.
Does her statement reflect an ideal rule that is broken in practice? Or are we dealing with
a system in which the biological / adopted distinction is really of little importance in
predicting actual behavior? I pursued the matter further.
What does it mean, I wondered, to act as a mother. What did this role involve?
The multi-layered responses to these questions were revealed to me by Altagracia, a
woman in Loma Dura. Acting as a mother, I learned from speaking with her, refers to
several things. As was true with Isabel, for Altagracia it also means that as a mother,
foster parents must incorporate children into the household as if they were biological
Altagracia- "They treated me as a daughter"
A few hours after I arrived in Loma Dura, I had a conversation with Altagracia, the
Doila or owner of the house I was staying at. As one of the most prominent and
respected members of the community, Altagracia knows everyone in the surrounding
areas. Hopefully she would refer me to families that were involved in fosterage
arrangements. As we sat in her dirt-floor living room that day, I brought up the hijo de
crianza topic up. However, Altagracia did not have to refer me to other families. To my
surprise, she revealed that she had been an hiJa de crianza herself. "I was in the Capital
[Santo Domingo] like that. I spent my youth like that," she admitted. Altagracia's uncle,
she explained, had sent her to live with a family in the affluent neighborhood of
Ensanche Pian2tini. Altagracia was eleven years old at the time.
Altagracia and I had a long conversation regarding her fosterage experience in
Santo Domingo, particularly in regards to her foster parents' obligations. "Ellos me
daban todo lo que yo necesitaba. Por ejemplo, la ropa zapato, medicina, medicamentos.
Si me enfermaba, me Ilevaban al medico. M~e daban la oportunidadddddddddd~ddddd de ir a la escuela, "
or "They provided me with everything I needed. For example, clothing, shoes, medicine.
If I got sick, they would take me to the doctor", she explained. "They also gave me the
opportunity to go to school," she added. "Ellos me compraban todo, todo, todo y siempre
me daban algo de cuarto para que yo manejara," or "They would buy me everything,
everything, everything. They also gave me money to spend", she revealed. As we
continued our conversation, Altagracia talked about her relationship with her foster
mother. "Yo y ella conversa~bamnos como madre e hija," or She and I would talk like
mother and daughter", she explained. "Yo le contaba si yo tenia un enamorado, yo se lo
decia a ella y ella me contaba muchas cosas de ella tamtttttttt~~~~~~~~~bidn, or "I would tell her things.
If I had a suitor, I would tell her. And she would tell me many things about herself, too."
But there was a statement that Altagracia, as well as many other informants, repeated
throughout our conversation that was most intriguing. "Ellos me tenian2 igual que una
hija"~ or "They had me just like a daughter," she revealed. Again we see the prominent
cultural rule prohibiting discrimination against adopted children.
What did it mean "to have you like a daughter", I asked myself. To have you like a
daughter, I gathered, requires that foster parents satisfy a child's physical and emotional
needs. In Altagracia's case, she was treated like a daughter by providing her with the
essentials for physical sustenance-food, clothes, shelter and schooling. However, they
treated her like a daughter by establishing an affective, trusting relationship. What was
the nature of this relationship, I wondered. How was it established?
In the case of both Isabela and Altagracia, we are dealing with permanent
relocation. Is this cultural rule of equal treatment equally strong in the other modality,
i.e. in the case of prestttttttttttttttttad or borrowed children? Do foster parents develop this
relationship with both prestado and regalado children, I asked myself. I decided to take a
closer look at the nature of the foster parent-hijo de crianza relationship.
Foster Parent/Child Bond
People do not always practice what they preach. Examining affective relationships
was methodologically quite challenging. First, time and funding constraints limited my
ability to observe intangible issues such as "parent/child bonds" (Smucker and Murray,
2004, p. 78). Ideally, I would have preferred to spend extended time periods with the
families I encountered in order to observe and verify the relationships people described.
In addition, during the brief research that underlies this thesis, I am aware that I did not
have sufficient time to develop the rapport required to prompt a person to reveal the true
nature of their fosterage experience, particularly in regards to their affective relationship.
However, despite these challenges, I believe that I was able to perceive and observe that
foster parents and children can truly experience affective relationships. For instance,
Chichi and Teodoro's body language towards their foster daughter left no doubt in my
mind that a loving relationship existed. As I approached their home, the first thing I
noticed was Elena, their foster daughter, sitting on Teodoro's lap as they shared a tender
conversation. In addition, Chichi's caring tone of voice and choice of words revealed the
genuineness of her subsequent claims that she loved her daughter "como si fuera una
hija" or "as if she were her daughter".
The Language of Fosterage
To have you like a daughter also involves the use of certain terms that indicate the
child's inclusion into the intimate kin group. The "parent/child bond" (Smucker and
Murray, 2004, p. 78) Altagracia made reference to is reflected in the use of kinship
terminology amongst family members involved in the agreement. Careful
anthropological attention to the language that people use, particularly kinship terms, can
reveal subtle distinctions. I encountered three different practices with respect to kinship
terminology. In most homes, foster children were referred to as "hijos de crianza" or
reared children, while parents were referred to as "mama~" or "papa", mother or father.
Conversely, in such households "mi hermano" or "mi hermana", or my brother and my
sister, are used to refer to foster siblings.
But I noted another pattern in which the lineal kin terms (father, mother, brother,
sister) were replaced by somewhat more distant collateral kin terms like "aunt" ,
"uncle." For instance, Stephanie, a foster child living with a family in Santo Domingo,
refers to her foster mother as "Tia Susy"', or Aunt Susy, not as "mama." Zuna, a girl who
is being raised by her aunt in Loma de Cabrera, refers to her foster mother as "tia" or
"aunt." And thirdly, I encountered families that did not employ kinship terms at all.
Fior, a ten-year-old girl in Restauraci6n, refers to her foster mother as Melania, her first
name. Does this mean that Doila Melania did not "have her like a daughter"? What
other ways did she use to express Fior' s inclusion in the intimate kin group if she did not
use fictive kinship terminology? How else did Doila Melania treat her like a daughter?
This led naturally to the question: do these terminological differences along the kin -
non-kin traj ectory correspond to differences in actual treatment of children? If so, is it
the differential terminology that leads to differential treatment, or vice versa? Or are the
two so dynamically intertwined that they cannot be analytically separated? These
questions are easy to pose, but methodologically difficult to answer.
But before passing on to the details of the exchange arrangement --food, clothing,
shelter, and education in exchange for some domestic services I wish to continue with
the discussion of culturally recognized types of arrangements. I will begin by discussing
an arrangement that is distinct from fosterage the domestic employee, the trabajadora,
who is distinct from the foster daughter. I will then discuss two hybrid types of
arrangements on the borderline of fosterage.
Modes of Incorporation Into Dominican Homes: Trabajadoras Versus Hijos de
In this section, I will deal in more detail with the different types of material
exchanges that occur in houses with relocated children. Of particular importance is the
distinction between the labor Done by paid workers and the labor Done by foster
As I reviewed the transcripts from my interview with Altagracia, I realized that to
have you like a daughter has an additional layer of meaning. Not only does the phrase
indicate that foster parents satisfy a foster child's physical and emotional needs it also
speaks of the different modes of incorporation into Dominican homes. To have you like a
daughter sets the child apart from the other outside members of the household.
In my conversation with Altagracia, we talked about her responsibilities while at
her foster home. During the interview, I asked her to enumerate the specific chores she
had to carry out. "Bueno, la responsabilidadddddddddddd~d mia era limpiar la casa y tender el bebe,"
or "Well, my responsibility was cleaning the house and taking care of the baby," she
responded. I prodded further and asked is she had to cook meals, too. "No, ni lavaba
ttttttttttttttttampoco. Habia otra trabajadora que cocinaba y lavaba, la lavaba la trabajadora," or
"No!" she adamantly responded. "They had a trabajadora7 that cooked and washed
clothes. I didn't even wash my own clothes," she maintained. "The trabajadora would
wash clothes." In other words, a cultural distinction emerged between the work expected
of children and the work assigned to trabajadoras. As I was curious to learn more about
the intensity of her work requirements and her living conditions, I asked if she had dias
libres or days off from cleaning and taking care of the baby. "No, porque yo estaba en la
casa como que no era trabajadora. Yo salia con ellos a pasear," or "No. I wasn't in the
house as a trabajadora", she reaffirmed, "I would go out with the family on rides."
Altagracia's response exposed multiple issues. First, Altagracia brought to light
her awareness that she and the maid had something in common. Neither one of them is
biologically related to the Ensanche Piantini family. In effect, they were both outsiders
in their home. Nonetheless, Altagracia pointed, she was not an employee, like the
trabajadora was. She was "like a daughter". Altagracia's response indicates her need to
emphatically distinguish herself from the trabajadora.
My interview with Nefertiti, a fifteen-year-old girl in Loma de Cabrera helped me
gain further insight into the different modes of incorporation. Nefertiti and I spoke about
Trabajadora is one of the terms used in the Dominican Republic to refer to a maid.
Wilfredo, her nine-year-old Haitian foster brother. Wilfredo, as she explained, lived with
her family for several years. When I asked Nefertiti if her parents paid Wilfredo for his
help with the cattle on the farm, she adamantly clarified, "No! A Fifa se lo regalaron.
Regalao fue que se lo dieron," or "No! He was given to my mother. He was given to her
regalao." When I asked what she meant by this, she responded, "Que se lo dieron pa
ella, que se quedaraddd~~~~~ddddd~~~~ con Il. Aqui le damdddddddd~~~~~~~~~o comida, ropa, camna moquitero, de todo," or
"They gave him to her so she could keep him. We give him food, clothes, a bed, a
mosquito net. Everything."
Both Nefertiti and Altagracia' s responses indicate the existence of two distinct
domains or spheres of exchange. First, Altagracia establishes a marked distinction
between herself and the trabajadora. Altagracia was a member of the intimate kin group.
The maid, on the other hand, was not. Second, Nefertiti pointed to the issue that
establishes membership in either group. Trabajadora~s are compensated for their labor
with a salary. Hifos de crianza are not. Wilfredo is not an employee; he is a member of
the family. Consequently, he cannot receive monetary compensation for his work.
Money exchanges and foster children, I concluded, do not belong in the same domain.
Foster children are obviously benefits of material exchanges food, clothing, shelter,
education as are biological children. But monetary payments for labor do not fit into
the cultural category of what is appropriate to give to one' s children. American child-
rearing rules differ in that sense. Many parents have no qualms about hiring their
children to do certain domestic tasks, whether in exchange for an allowance or a direct
payment. And children certainly have no ideological objection to accepting payment. In
the Dominican Republic, in contrast, the moment foster parents compensate foster
children, with a salary, they are automatically shifted into the employee domain. The
International Labor Organization International Programme on the Elimination of Child
Labour' s study(2003) on child domestic labor had similar findings in this regard.
Biological parents, their study reveals, do not want foster families to pay their hilos de
crianza. The use of money lessens the foster parent' s compromiseo moral" or "moral
commitment" (p. 50).
Trabaladoras and hijos de crianza are distinguished in three other ways. First, as
Smucker and Murray (2004) note, foster parents must provide children with an education,
an element that is central to the fosterage agreement. This responsibility does not apply,
however, for a trabajadora. Although cases of Dominican families that pay for the
schooling of a trabaladora (or of her children) occur, it is not, however, the norm or an
expectation. Second, foster parents are responsible for the child's physical and moral
wellbeing. Amanda, a foster mother in Loma de Cabrera who is raising a twelve-year-old
Haitian girl, explained this to me. In the following excerpt, we are discussing foster
parent responsibilities and challenges.
Amanda: Uno tiene ma~ reponsabilidd.
Tess: jPorque con una trabajadora usted no tiene responsabilidad?
Amanda: No, porque si e una mufer ella puede hacd lo que quiera. Pero yo a esa
niha tengo que sabd qud paso da.
Tess: Y si Dios la libre de mal, por ejemplo, esa niha le sale con una barriga
stand> en sus manos, iqud pasa?
Amanda: Nd~. Tendria yo que ir Donde su familiar, contarle lo que pasa. iPor qud
Tess: M~ire, si eso sucede y el papd no da la cara, iquidn va a pagarle tod> lo de .
? Eso le tocaria a usted?
Amanda: M~e tocaria a mi, porque imaginate.
Tess: Pero si es una trabajadora no. Si sale con una barriga, iqud pasa~?
Amanda: Es su problema. 'Vayase! Asi e que lo hacen aqui.
Amanda: One has more responsibility.
Tess: Do you not have responsibility with a maid?
Amanda: No, because if it' s a woman, she can do what she wants. But I have to
know every step that girl takes.
Tess: And what happens if, God forbid, the girl gets pregnant while she's with
Amanda: It would be my responsibility because, imagine! What else can I do?
Amanda: Nothing. I would have to go to her family and explain to them what is
going on. Because, what else can I do?
Tess: Look, what happens if the baby's father does not assume responsibility for
the problem? Who has to pay for everything? Would that be your responsibility?
Amanda: It would be my responsibility. Because, imagine!.
Tess: But where she a maid, you would not be responsible. What happens if a
maid gets pregnant?
Amanda: It's her problem. 'Leave!' This is how we do it here.
Amanda' s comments indicate that, in effect, a clear difference is made between a
traba-jadora and an hiJa de crianza. In the excerpt, Amanda describes the nature of the
responsibility she assumed the moment she took Sonia into her home even though
Sonia was Haitian and not Dominican. It requires that she supervise and be aware of
every action Sonia takes, making her responsible and accountable for Sonia's physical,
emotional and moral well-being. In the event that Sonia got pregnant, for instance,
Amanda would be accountable. Not only would she have to admit to the biological
parents that she failed to protect the child from harm and did not provide her with an
adequate upbringing, she would have to assume the pregnancy and delivery costs. With a
trabajadora, as she described, none of this would take place.
As my conversation with Amanda progressed, I became conscious of the third
element that differentiates trabajadoras and hijos de crianza. As we discussed the
different alternatives Dominican women have of satisfying their domestic labor needs, I
asked Amanda what the benefits of having a paid trabajadora were. "Ah, que uno tiene
una ayuda," or "Oh, that one has help", she responded in a matter of fact manner. But
Sonia helps too, I stated. "No, porque una trabajadora ta con ma obligacion. Ta
obligada a hacelo, or "But a maid has more of an obligation" she clarified. "She is
obliged to do things." Things with Sonia are quite different. "i Tzi la ve que ella tiene
rato ahi sentadatt~~~~~ttttt~~~~ Si e una trabajadora, 'Bo~~~~~ttttta~m~e esa yerba! Hame eto, hame aquello!' "
or "(You see her over there?" she asked me. "She has been sitting there for a while. If
she were a maid, I would be saying 'Throw those weeds away!' 'Do this! Do that!'" she
revealed. Maids, she continued, do not enjoy free time. Sonia's situation, she explained,
was very different. "Cuando yo toy sentadatt~~~~~ttttt~~~~ hay que deja que ella tamtttttttt~~~~~~~~~bidn decanse, or
"When I am sitting, I have to let her rest, too."
Analytically Borderline Cases of Labor Exchange.
As I have mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, the prestttttttttttttttttado and regalado
fosterage modalities have several similarities. The first and most obvious is that both
types of fosterage require that children be relocated from the biological to the foster
home. The transmission of parental guardianship and of childrearing activities in both
the prestttttttttttttttttado and regalado arrangements, require that children live with their foster
parents. Isabel, for instance, cannot be a mother if the baby is not physically in her care.
However, my experience with Victor, an eight-year-old Haitian boy in Loma Dura, shed
further light on the nuances of a child's physical location and residence. Location, I
would discover, is an important determinant in the Dominican child fosterage system.
Victor has lived in Loma Dura with his father Luis all his life. Like many Haitians
in the surrounding areas, Luis is an agricultural worker. However, he is not like the rest
of the Haitians in the area. Luis is a permanent resident in Loma Dura, not a migrant
worker. Martin, a Dominican peasant in the area ceded a small portion of his land over to
Luis. In exchange, Luis must give him a portion of his production. Luis grows pigeon
peas, potatoes and coffee in his small piece of land. However, Luis must also work as a
day laborer to make ends meet. His production is not enough to support himself and his
The first time I met Victor, he was at Martin and Altagracia's home. Every
afternoon, when school got out, Victor headed straight to Martin and Altagracia's home,
where he ate his noon day meal. While at her home, Victor helps Altagracia with small
chores, like running down the hill to the colmado or small convenience store to get
supplies. During summer vacation, when school is out, Victor heads straight to Martin
and Altagracia's. At dusk, Luis will invariably walk up the hill towards Martin's home
to retrieve his son. Victor spends the night with his dad in their small, one-room wooden
As I thought about Victor' s particular situation, I noticed that it possessed elements
of child fosterage arrangements. To begin with, when Victor is at Altagracia's home,
there is a transmission of childrearing obligations from one family to the other. While at
their home, Altagracia feeds and bathes Victor. She cares for him when he is ill. She
gives "costumbres or "manners" and is teaching him to perform certain duties around
their home. In addition, Martin and Altagracia have had full authorization to reprimand
and punish Victor. Secondly, a physical relocation takes place, albeit partially. Victor
spends most of his time at Bene and Altagracia's home, than with his own father.
Given these similarities, I wondered how the families conceptualized Victor' s
particular situation. Was this fosterage, I wondered. So, one afternoon, I asked
Altagracia if she was fostering Victor. "Como quien dice, si, or "One could say that I
am," she stated. "Pero su papd e quien lo ta criando. El vive con su papd. El lo manda
para acd porque aqui el estd~ ma protegido. Aqui nadie lo maltrata, or "But his father is
the one raising him. He lives with his dad. He sends him here because he is more
protected. He is not mistreated."
Victor' s childrearing experience shed light on the nature of location and residency
in fosterage arrangements. In her explanation, Altagracia revealed that part-time physical
relocation does not constitute fostering, despite the fact that she is performing almost all
of the childrearing duties. To claim that fosterage is taking place, Victor must spend the
night at Bene and Altagracia' s home. Thus, place of residence and parentage is defined
by where a child sleeps. Since Victor sleeps at his father's home, he is the one raising
him. As we see, the real world behavior of people does not necessarily follow neat
conceptual categories. In such borderline cases between employment and fosterage, the
two culturally relevant variables are: payment of a salary and sleeping arrangements. If
a regular salary is paid, the person is a worker. In the case of younger children, a hybrid
arrangement occurs when a young child spends days at someone else's home receiving
food and other non-monetary rewards, but nights at his parents' home. The culturally
defined pathway into full fosterage in such cases entails the act of sleeping at the foster
My visit with Amantina, a grandmother in San Jose de Ocoa, supported my
conclusion that sleeping arrangements are crucial in defining fosterage arrangements.
Amantina, who is raising Yeison and Santica, two of her grandchildren, supported
Altagracia's comments on fosterage and sleeping arrangements. When I asked her to tell
me what "criar n/ijll\` or fostering children meant, she responded, "Atenderlo, atenderlo
con su leche, con la comia la dormia y todo" or "Attend to them. Attend to them with
their milk, with their food, with their sleeping arrangements and everything." This
comment, I now realize, supports Altagracia's statement that she is not raising Victor
because she is not providing him with a place to sleep.
But the matter can become even more complex. As my conversation with
Amantina progressed, I learned much more about hijos de crianza and place of residence.
I learned that children can sometimes be raised in multiple households at the same time.
Amantina and Yeison
Yeison, Amantina' s foster son, is her daughter Xiomara' s only child from her first,
failed marriage. Amantina took her grandson in for the first time, when Xiomara
migrated to Panama after leaving Yeison's father. Xiomara, however, returned to Ocoa,
where she met and married another man. Consequently, Xiomara retrieved her son and
went to live with her new husband.
I met Yeison for the first time during one of my repeated visits to his aunt and
uncle's home, where he often visits and plays with his cousin. I would always see Yeison,
who was twelve-years-old at the time, persistently playing placas with the rest of the
SPlaca, a barrio version of baseball, is played between two teams of two players each. It gets its name
from the placa or license plate that is used to designate bases. In placa, there are only two bases and they
are arranged in a straight line, to accommodate for play in narrow barrio streets or alleys.
boys in the neighborhood. One afternoon, as I was sitting with the entire family in the
galeria or front porch, I learned that things did not go very well for Yeison at his new
home, so he returned to live with his grandmother, Amantina. When I asked why Yeison
had returned to Amantina's home, his uncle Joselo responded, "El e muy gobernativo or
"He is too willful." Consequently, Yeison's mother and stepfather were stern with him,
he explained. But they had good reason to. "Porque un dia sucedio, jttu sabes porqud?
A 41 lo mandarond~~~~dddd~~~~ddd a un mandao. Yo no sd si jite a comprar un aceite pa cocinar. Y lo
mandarond~~~~dddd~~~~ddd como a las die y a la una no habia venido y el comado estaba ahi en la
equina! or "One, day, you know what happened?" he asked. "They sent him on an
errand. I'm not sure if they sent him to buy some cooking oil. They sent him around ten
in the morning and it was one o'clock in the afternoon and he had not come back. And
the colmado [convenience store] was at the corner!" he exclaimed. Needless to say,
Yeison was reprimanded. Consequently, Yeison left his mother' s home on his own
volition and returned to live with his grandmother.
According to Joselo' s explanation, Yeison left his mother' s home in hopes of
escaping his parent's strict discipline. However, a few months into his stay with
Amantina, Yeison left and headed to his paternal grandmother's home, who lives down
the hill. "Si y bajaba paa onde la otra abuela. Cuando se ponia guapo con Amantina,
bajaba pa onde la otra abuela, or "Yes and he would go and stay at his other
grandmother' s house. When he was angry at Amantina, he would go down to his other
grandmother' s," his aunt explained. It seems as if Yeison, a willful child indeed,
conveniently changes his domicile in search of the most lenient parent and apparently,
better food. Once more, Yeison chose to leave his third home and return to Amantina's
because he did not like his other grandmother' s cooking. "El ha vivido en la do casa
pero cuando llegaba a donde Besalina, Ilegaba con una hambre! El pobre, parece que la
papa. .," or "He would stay in both houses but every time he would go to Amantina's
he was always hungry! Poor thing. Looks like the food down there wasn't any good,"
his aunt explained.
Yeison' s childrearing situation reminded me of what I had read in Isiugo-Abanihe's
article regarding a child's place of residence (1985). "The maternal home is but one of
several possible homes for the child" (p. 54). Although Yeison spent most of his time
with Amantina, he was as a matter of fact, being raised in three different homes. Yeison
spends the night in all three homes interchangeably, thus fulfilling the fosterage requisite
of place of residence. This communal upbringing arrangement, however, is only possible
given the fact that all three homes are in very close proximity to one another. But most
importantly, the fact that Yeison is male, not female, grants him the liberty and leniency
to migrate from one home to the other at his will.
How can we handle cases like this analytically? For the moment we can say that
the normal and statistically dominant child relocation mode entails full time residence,
including sleeping at the foster home. Once this cultural "menu item" of relocation is
present as an alternative within a population, some individuals devise hybrid options on
the boundaries of the category. We have seen two examples of such hybrid
arrangements: one in which a boy spends the day at a foster home but sleeps at his
parent' s home, and another in which a young boy strategically shifts sleeping places. But
these are best viewed as idiosyncratic variants on a more widespread pattern of full-time
living in the foster home. But individuals do not feel constrained to adhere to the neat
categories posited either by the ideals of a culture or the categories of a social scientist.
Paying careful attention to the language that surfaced in word-by-word
transcriptions of tape recorded interviews, I have presented the outlines of a child
relocation system whose actors recognize two distinct modes: lending children and
giving children away. While recognizing that interview materials such as these reflect
cultural ideals rather than statistically documented aggregate behavior, it nonetheless
remains impressive that informants emphasize with vigor the notion that foster children
are to be treated as biological children. It would require longer research to verify
whether this ideal is put into practice. But even the cultural expression of the ideal
differs strongly from what is found, for example, in Haiti (Smucker & Murray, 2004),
where there is a culturally recognized category of restavek, relocated children who are
explicitly used as unpaid child servants treated quite differently from pitit kay, children of
the household. Cultural ideals do not totally determine behavior, but this strongly stated
egalitarian norm found in the Dominican fosterage system can be expected to have some
impact on what people actually do. The following chapter will delve more directly into
the realm of rights and duties.
EXCHANGE OF COSTS AND BENEFITS: RIGHTS AND DUTIES INT THE
DOMINICAN CHILD RELOCATION SYSTEM
Physical Needs: Food, Clothing, Shoes and an Education
As I have already mentioned, foster parents are required to satisfy a child's
emotional and physical needs. Emotional needs, on the one hand, are met through the
establishment of affective foster parent/child relationships. This involves the
incorporation of foster children as members of the intimate kin group, the establishment
of trust, and physical displays of affection. The satisfaction of physical needs as
Altagracia, Nora and Isabel mentioned, has different requirements. Smucker and Murray
(2004) state, "primary economic support of the child becomes the responsibility of the
caretaker family" (p. 81). Foster parents provide children with food, clothing, shoes and
an education. However, my conversation with Dofia Ramona, a former foster mother in
the town of Yamasa, helped me understand the many complexities involved in this
apparently straightforward parental obligation. Foster parents, I learned, are responsible
for the child's physical health, appearance and integrity.
Dofia Ramona and Jaqueline
Dofia Ramona, a woman in her fifties, was one of the first women I interviewed in
Yamasa, a town located to the north of Santo Domingo. She was sitting on a chair,
wrapped in a towel, when I approached her home. I noticed a young woman, who I later
learned was Dofia Ramona' s daughter, kneeling on the ground scraping the leftover con-
con or burnt rice from the bottom of an iron pot as she washed the noon meal dishes.
After exchanging greetings, Dofia Ramona apologized for not being dressed. She had a
bad cold, she explained. She could only bathe at noon, the hottest part of the day. After
introductions, I proceeded to explain the purpose of my visit. I told her that I wanted to
learn more about her experience raising Jaquelinee, her foster daughter.
"El taba hata po envenenase con to lo muchacho! or "He was even going to
poison himself with all those kids!" she said of Jaqueline' s biological father. Jaqueline' s
father, whose wife left him for another man, could not take care of their eight small
children and work in the fields at the same time. According to Dofia Ramona, he was in
such dire straits that he thought of poisoning himself. Consequently, he gave some of his
children up to other families. Jaqueline was one and a half years old when Dofia Ramona
agreed to take her in.
Once Dofia Ramona had given me some background on Jaqueline, I asked her what
her responsibilities as a foster parent were. "Everything. Just like a daughter," was her
immediate response. As I wanted to obtain specific childrearing duties, I prodded her
into providing me with particular tasks. At first, I was perplexed by her response. "Yo la
puse de nueve, casi die," or "I got her to be nine years old, almost ten." In her statement,
it seemed as if Dofia Ramona felt that her foster child' s growth was her entire doing. As
our conversation progressed, I came to understand what she meant by this statement.
According to Dofia Ramona, Jaqueline would not be alive if it were it not for her
efforts. In the following interview excerpt, Dofia Ramona is talking about Jaqueline's
condition when she first arrived at her home.
Cuando a mi me dieron esa niha, yo vivia en La Cuaba .. Cuando me la dieron a
mi, ella taba encuera, demzia, sentd debajo de una mate mango, Ilena e tierra y
Ilena de semilla de mango. Ella tenia un pardsito malo. .. Esa niha tenia una
hinchazon que mi papd me dijo, 'Te turajite un baquinin, me dijo mi papd 'Eso e
pa morisete en tu brazo. Le dije, 'Utd vera~ que no. Si Dio quiere. Que no se va a
m or i '
I lived in La Cuaba, when they gave me that girl. .. She was all full of dirt and
soiled with mango seeds. She had a bad parasite. She was sick. She was naked
when I received the girl. She was sitting under a mango tree .. The girl was so
swollen that my father said to me, 'You got yourself a baquinin!i That thing is
going to die in your arms.' I said to him, "No, she won't. You'll see, God willing.
She won't die.
Dofia Ramona' s recollection of her father' s statement was indicative of Jaqueline's
physical state. Jaqueline's condition, as Dofia Ramona explained, was so critical that her
father did not believe the baby would survive. When she took the toddler in, she was a
"thing", not a baby. However, Dofia Ramona's time, resources and nurturance, as the
following excerpt indicates, were able to get Jaqueline back to good health.
Ella taba enfema. Yo gatd much dinero. Bueno y tratamientottt~~~ttt~~~tt con la niha,
tra~~~tttttameto con la ni~t~ta Se hizo una mujer. Un mujeron. Y todo el mundola veia~.
Ah y bonita, un pelo muy bonito. Decia la gente, 'Ah, pue eta mujer tiene mano
con lo muchacho. M~ira. Se puso bonita la muchacha. La puse que ~I que la veia,
no d'ecia que era la niha, limpia y bonita.
She was sick. I spent a lot of money; a lot. So it was treatments and treatments for
the girl. And she became a woman. A big woman. Everybody would see her. Oh,
and she was pretty. She had beautiful hair. People would say, 'Oh, this woman has
a good hand with children. Look at her.' The girl is pretty now. Pretty and clean.
Dofia Ramona' s statement brought forth two other foster parent duties. First,
should a foster child fall ill, foster parents are required to nurse them back to health. This
might involve, as Dofia Ramona noted, medical expenditures. This particular duty, I
noted, is of great relevance. As the previous interview excerpt revealed, Dofia Ramona,
made direct reference to her caregiver activities, as well as in the multiple medical costs
she undertook. Jaqueline would not be here today, she notes, if it weren't for her efforts.
The second duty I identified in Dofia Ramona' s response was the need to keep foster
children "pretty and clean". Dofia Ramona, as well as the other people I spoke to,
mentioned how they successfully cleansed their foster child. This task requires that they
bathe and clothe their foster child. A foster child, I concluded, must always appear clean
and cared for.
As my exchange with Dofia Ramona progressed, she continued to reveal further
childrearing activities. The next duty had to do with clothes, "Porque cuando mi mamad
venia de Nueba Yol, le traia ropa. M~ira, zapato, teni, or "Because my mother would
bring her clothes, shoes, sneakers when she came from New York," she revealed.
Jaqueline, who was "naked" before she arrived to Dofia Ramona' s home, was now
wearing items purchased especially for her in the United States.
Central to foster parent child rearing obligations is that they provide children with
"una educacion or "an education". Regardless of whether a child is prestttttttttttttttttado or
regalado, parents must provide the skills that will allow children to fulfill a productive
adult life. This is achieved through schooling and nonacademic training.
El no puede aprendd a trabaja con la yerba. Tiene que aprender con su lapi en la
mano. or He cannot learn to work with weeds. He must learn with a pencil in his
Luis, Haitian farmer
The above statement was made by Luis, a small-scale Haitian farmer in Loma
Dura, a farming community near San Jose de Ocoa. He is making reference to his wishes
that Victor, his son, go to school. Luis, as well as many other farmers I spoke to in Loma
Dura, want their children to finish school and "hacerse proflt ionles" I~\ or "become
professionals". As Luis so eloquently stated, farmers do not want their children to stay in
the campos or rural areas and live a farmer' s way of life.
As Smucker and Murray (2004) and McPherson (2003) have noted, farming is no
longer a desirable occupation in the Dominican Republic. Parents throughout rural
communities will sacrifice and expend considerable resources to have their children
finish high school and obtain a college degree, instead of helping on the farm. I saw
evidence of this in almost every home I visited in Loma Dura. For instance, Altagracia
and Martin have pictures and diplomas of their children's high school graduations
conspicuously hanging on their living room walls. Although none of them has
accomplished the ultimate parental dream of "hacerse~,lf~ pi~eitnlles "~\ or "becoming
college graduates", they have high hopes for their four children. Altagracia and Martin
believe they will live much better lives in Santo Domingo where they will have access to
salaried jobs, rather than working on the small coffee farm.
Foster parents acquire this educational obligation. In taking a child in, they commit
to providing a child with the skills that will assist them to gain access to an urban job.
Not only must foster parents allow children to take time during the day to attend school
and do homework, but they must also supply school uniforms, supplies and shoes.
Failure to fulfill any one of the elements of this crucial requirement, as I will further note,
can constitute grounds for the agreement' s termination.
At first, when Nora explained that, in the hypothetical situation where she would
give me a child, I would need to provide her son with "una educacion" or "an
education", I thought she meant sending him to school. However, as I continued
examining foster parent obligations, I learned that there was a lot more involved in her
statement. "Thra educacion" also meant providing children with nonacademic instruction
as well. This type of training, which is carried out along gendered lines, is believed to be
equally important for a child's adult life.
Non-Academic Training for Daughters
One of the nonacademic training requirements foster parents must fulfill is to
provide children with moral instruction. Although this requirement applies for both male
and female foster children, I found that this was especially true for hilas de crianza or
foster daughters. "Angelita .. va a la iglesia conmigo y todo, itu ve?" or "Angelita. ..
goes to church with me and everything, you see?" Melania, a foster mother from
Restauraci6n revealed. Every Sunday, Melania and Angelita go to church where Melania
hopes her foster daughter will learn her religious and moral ways. Likewise, Chichi, a
foster mother I met in Loma de Cabrera, makes sure that Elena, her 5-year-old Haitian
foster daughter, learns her family's firmly-held Evangelical religious beliefs. When I
arrived at their home one Sunday afternoon, I noticed that the family, including Elena,
were still wearing their Sunday church garb. During our interview, Chichi instructed her
foster daughter to recite one of the church songs she had taught her. Elena acquiesced
and obediently performed the hymn.
Parents are also required to provide their hilas de crianza with domestic skills. "Si,
la estoy encillrnjollk los quehaceres de la casa, dandole una formacion. Yo la tengo como
una niha, ca~si como una hija. Esa e mi compahera, or "I am teaching her all the
household duties, I am giving her an education. I have her as if she were my daughter,"
Melania explained, implying that she had done the same with her own biological
daughters. My understanding of this particular type of training was further expanded
during my interview with Amanda and Sonia, a foster mother and daughter in Loma de
Cabrera. As Amanda reveals, foster daughters are instructed to perform multiple
domestic duties, as well as many other activities.
Amanda and Sonia
Amanda, a woman in her mid-forties, lives near the Dominican-Haitian border in
the outskirts of Loma de Cabrera in a place called La Seyba. She has three biological
children, all of whom are married and left home. Currently, Amanda lives with Jose and
Sonia, her two foster children. Jose is Amanda' s seven-year-old grandson. Sonia, who
was thirteen-years-old at the time, is from Haiti. Juana makes a living from her sparsely
stocked colmado or convenience store she has set up in a small kiosk located towards the
front of her house to take advantage of the ongoing traffic that goes back and forth
between Haiti and the Dominican Republic along the Carretera Internacional or the
Amanda is preparing Sonia for an adult life in several ways. First, Amanda
carefully teaches Sonia to carry out the domestic tasks she believes are integral to her
upbringing. "Ya yo la enc~l~~il a cocind, que ella no sabia nada. Yo la m~l~~id a cocind, a
limpid, a todo. Yo la enc~l~~ilopa que aprenda," or "I already taught her how to cook
because she did not know a thing.. I taught her how to cook, to clean, to do everything. I
teach her so she will learn how to do these things," Amanda explained. Amanda,
however, also teaches Sonia how to sell at the colmado. When a customer approached
the store in the middle of our conversation, Amanda said, "Sonia ven a ver! Vindele
media botella de aceite. Vindele! or "Sonia, go sell him half a bottle of cooking oil!i
Go ahead!" Amanda has been teaching Sonia colmado operations. When I inquired
whether she always helped her with her business, she replied, "Si, para que se vayav~~~vvv~~~
defendiendo," or "Yes, so she can defend herself."
Hifos de crianza or male foster children receive careful instruction in the skills
parents believe will be most valuable as adults. Boys in rural areas are taken to the fields
to learn from and help their fathers with agricultural chores. For instance, Wilfredo,
Nefertiti's Haitian foster brother, was taught to tend to his family's goats, cows and pigs.
In urban areas, on the other hand, boys learn to carry out other types of skills. Jose,
Isabel's former foster child, learned to operate her colmado or small convenience store
when he was thirteen-years-old. Tony, a nine-year-old foster son in Loma de Cabrera,
was learning how to provide price quotes and answer phone calls at his uncle's hardware
Exchange of Costs and Benefits: What are the Children Required to Do?
Child fosterage, as I have mentioned, involves the transfer of parental guardianship
from the sending to the receiving family. As Isabel, the woman raising her nephew' s son
articulated, "Es una responsabilidad que uno assume muy grande, or "It is a bi g
responsibility one assumes." The responsibility she makes reference to involves the
fulfillment of a child's physical, emotional and educational needs. Consequently, as
Isiugo-Abanihe (1985) asserts, "biological parents, in effect, transfer the economic costs
of childbearing onto the receiving family" (p. 55). But, is this arrangement unilateral in
regards to the costs and benefits involved? If so, it would seem as if biological parents
receive all the benefits of the hilo de crianza system. What stipulations does the child
fosterage system have in place to compensate foster parents for their investments in time,
resources and most importantly, emotions? Foster parents, I learned, not only acquire
"the responsibility of childrearing but also the rights associated with it" (Page, 1989, p.
Childrearing Benefits: Labor and Forthcoming Love
Pero no es a camnbio de dinero. El niho tiene que ayudarted~~~~dddd~~~~ddd en la casa, porque tui le
vas a darddddd~~~~~~~dddddd pero 41 tiene que darted~~~~ddddd~~~~dddd a ti, or You don't get money in return. The child
has to help you in the home because you are going to give, but he has to give to
you, Nora, Loma Dura
We can begin this discussion by stating that an analysis of the benefits received by
foster parents from foster children does not automatically presuppose some unusually
strong utilitarian dimension that distinguishes the fosterage arrangement from ordinary
childcare. Demographers who analyze cost-benefit calculations of the "value of
children" as a determinant of fertility are searching for utilitarian considerations even
with the biological family. If parents seek value from their biological children, we can
assume the same is true for foster children.
The analytic question concerns the nature of the value. We can identify three
genera of value that children give: ongoing material support, ongoing affection and
emotional support, and future material support in old age and illness.
Nora, the rural nurse in the mountain community in Loma Dura, and I spoke about
the childrearing benefits receiving parents acquire. Using Norbertico, her son, as a
hypothetical example, I asked her how I would be compensated for providing him with
all his needs. "iPero a camnbio de qud, yo lo crio y le doy comida?"or "What do I get in
return for rearing him and giving him food?" I asked. "Pero no es a camnbio de dinero.
El nitieeo tiene que ayudarte en la casa, porque tu le vas a dar, pero 41 tiene que darte a ero~Itiee qe dd~~d~~d~~dd~dd~dd~dd~~d~~d~~
ti, or "You don't get money in exchange. The child has to help you in the home because
you are going to give, but he has to give to you," she clarified.. Labor on the part of the
child is one of the means by which the hijos de crianza system reciprocates the efforts
foster parents invest in the childrearing process. This particular element of the hijo de
crianza system, I would later discover, is the source of much controversy, particularly
among development agencies. To many people, as I will address in subsequent sections,
fosterage looks and sounds like coercive child labor.
Foster children are required to carry out multiple tasks in the receiving household.
Although the types and amount of work required vary widely throughout each home, I
found that, in general, labor is distributed along gender lines and is related to the type of
non-academic instruction received. In other words, children will perform the tasks they
are taught. For instance, Wilfredo, the Haitian boy I mentioned in previous sections,
takes care of the goats, cows, and pigs, as he has been taught to do while at his foster
home. He also sweeps the patios and shines iron pots. Annie, on the other hand, helps
her foster mother with the "o(lki il\`" or housework. She washes the dishes, helps with the
cooking and cleaning. Altagracia, who was fostered in Ensanche Piantini, had to take
care of her foster mother' s baby.
Parents, however, have a distinctive understanding of a child's work in the home.
Foster child labor contributions are not considered labor per se. It is conceptualized and
discussed as an integral component ofa child's education and as exercises for the future.
But, most importantly, they perceive the work that children carry out as a means of
"instilling responsibility and knowledge" (Bass, 2004, p. 22).
El se porta mejor con mi mamad que los mismo hijo que ella engendro or He
behaves better with my mother than the children she gave birth to.
The previous statement was made by Juana, a woman in San Jose de Ocoa who
grew up with a foster brother. At the time, she was talking about how her brother loves
and cares for his foster mother more than her own biological children. Juana's brother is
"agradecido, a grateful person who remembers what you did for her even though you are
not her biological mother" (Smucker & Murray, 2004, p.78).
Juana' s example illustrates an element that is crucial to the hijos de crianza system.
As parents age, they increasingly rely on their children for support, thus they view
childrearing as a retirement investment. Foster children care, love and support their
parents in old age, as a means to return the love and care they themselves received while
they were growing up. Smucker and Murray (2004) had similar findings in this regard,
"Over and over again we heard from Dominican foster parents about long-term
calculations, the tremendous advantage of having additional children who can be counted
on to love and care for you in sickness and old age" (p. 78).
Which of these two calculations is more important the labor that the child gives to
me now, or the support that I will receive later in old age? There are no clear methods for
answering this question; both factors operate, not only with foster children, but also with
biological children. In Haiti, the treatment of restavek children is so cruel that caretakers
know the children will leave as soon as they can (Smucker & Murray 2004). In such a
system, caretakers extract from foster children a maximum of short-term benefits, with no
expectation of payoffs in old age. In the Dominican system, in contrast, there seems to
be a strategy of treating children in such a way that they will develop affection and
provide for you in old age. Am I asserting that Dominicans treat children kindly out of
gross calculations of future benefits rather than out of affection? No. All that is being
said here is that the Dominican system, with the importance given to future payoffs, treats
foster children much more benignly than the Haitian system documented by Smucker and
Prestado vs. Regalado: Partitioning Childrearing Rights and Obligations
As I have noted in previous sections, the prestttttttttttttttttado and regalado modalities operate
in similar ways. Both share characteristics that range from the transmission of
childrearing obligations and benefits to physical relocations. However, despite these
collective features, they differ in fundamental ways. The following excerpt from my
conversation with Nora, the nurse from Loma Dura, concisely explains these differences:
La diferencia es que el que lo da con papeles no tiene derecho. Todavia tiene
derecho pore es prestttttttttttttttttado, or The difference is that if you give him or her away,
you no longer have rights. If you lend your child, you still have rights.
As Nora revealed, biological parents in regalado agreements renounce their
parental rights. Prestttttttttttttttttado parents, on the other hand, do not. But, what rights was she
referring to? As I continued my conversation with Nora, as well as with all my other
informants, I gained a better understanding of the intricacies involved with biological and
foster parental rights in the hijo de crianza system.
Prestado Parental Rights
As I have noted, the transfer of parental duties and benefits that occurs in prestttttttttttttttttad
agreements is carried out on a "temporary, partial" basis (Eloundou-Enyengue & Stokes,
2002). Prestttttttttttttttttado sending parents, as Nora stated, relinquish certain rights but retain four
key ones. First, biological parents have the prerogative to supervise and evaluate the
childrearing process. Second, sending parents can choose to create or conserve their
affective relationship with their child. Third, biological parents can choose to terminate
the agreement at any time. Finally, they retain the right to provide the child with their
own civil and kinship identity (Goody, 1982).
Evaluating the Childrearing Process- The Hijo de Crianza Supervisory Process
In essence, the hilo de crianza supervisory process, allows parents to continue
exerting their parentage despite the fact that the child is no longer under their direct care.
Although it might appear from the cases I have just described that there seems to be little
biological parent participation, they retain a voice in the childrearing process. This
process serves several functions. First, it allows biological parents to participate in the
childrearing process, albeit indirectly. It provides parents with the necessary mechanism
to ensure that children are receiving an appropriate upbringing. But more importantly, it
is the principal means through which parents protect children from mistreatment and
abuse. Finally, biological parents can use the supervisory process to create and/or nurture
affective relationships with their child.
How does the supervisory process operate? How exactly do parents exercise this
right? Parents, I discovered, assess childrearing activities through the visitation process
which has clearly established rules and norms.
Visitation- Child Protection and Links to Biological Roots
Ella vino a verla, par a ver como etaba la ni~a. Ella. .. E decir. .. Que dede
que ella la trajo, ella no habia sabido de su ni~a. Entonce, ella vino como a ver y
a informano a nosotro. .. A decir...a ve porque asi somo la mamad.
She came to see her. She came to see how the girl was doing. I mean, she had not
heard from her girl since she brought her here. So, she came to see her and to
inform us, I mean, because that' s how us mothers are.
The previous quote is from my interview with Chichi, one of the foster mothers
from Loma de Cabrera. Chichi, who is fostering Elena, a seven-year-old Haitian girl,
was recounting the time when Tifan, Elena's mother, visited her daughter at her new
home. Chichi's quote, "She came to see how the girl was doing," accurately describes
the main function visitation serves. Biological parents will travel to the foster family
home to witness their child's well-being.
Visitation practices, I noted, have two basic characteristics. First of all, most visits
are unannounced. Foster parents are rarely informed of any upcoming trips. This, I
concluded, is done in order to witness childrearing activities free of deceptions.
Secondly, the visit frequency depends on the distance between both homes, the cost and
time of travel, and transportation availability.
What takes place during these visits? My conversations with Chichi, Nancy and
Amanda facilitated my understanding of the rules and protocol involved in an encounter.
The visitation process has many unspoken rules. The first and most significant is
that foster parents must always welcome biological parents into their home. "Si ello son
lo papd y ello vienen a vela a ella, nosotro no podemo a ello prohibile de que no, or "If
they are her parents, and they come to see her, we cannot forbid them to [come]," Chichi,
the foster mother in Loma de Cabrera admitted. Not only must foster parents allow
biological parents to visit, but they must treat them as guests. For instance, if a biological
parent is present during the noon day meal, it is imperative that they be asked to j oin the
family at the table. Second, biological parents ought to provide biological parents with
the opportunity to be alone with the child. This allows children to candidly express any
sentiments about their current living conditions. Amanda, the foster mother from Loma
de Cabrera, asked Sonia, her foster daughter, to reveal the contents of her conversation.
"Dique la mamnd le dijo que se cuidara.dd~~~~~ddddd~~~~ Le hizo varia pregunta: que si habia varone
aqui, que con quidn ella dormia, que como la trataban," or "Her mom told her to take
care of herself. She asked her various questions. She asked her if there were boys in the
house. She asked her who she slept with and how she was treated," she told me. Finally,
biological parents are allowed to bring gifts for their child. "Le trae su dinerito, le trae
cositals para que coma," or"He brings her a little money. He brings her little things to
eat," is what Diana told me that her foster daughter' s father brings when he visits. "Pa
embullala y cosa" or "So that she becomes fond of him and things," she explained. In
addition, biological parents, as Smucker and Murray (2004) note, will bring gifts for the
foster parent household as a gesture of friendship and appreciation. However, "these are
voluntary gifts, not an obligatory payment or remittance" (p. 79).
The visitation system also establishes rules for biological parent behavior. I
learned of the first rule during my conversation with Nancy, a girl from Loma de
Cabrera. Biological parents must exhibit respectful behavior and acknowledge foster
parental authority. For instance, Nancy's mother, who was raising a Haitian girl, was
offended when the foster child's father failed to acknowledge her parental authority. "El
queria tend cierta autorida~ en la casa," or, "He wanted to have a certain authority in the
house," she explained. When I asked her to elaborate, she replied, "Si mamni le d'ecia a
ella, por ejemplo, que se fuera a baha a la niha, 41le d'ecia 'No. Ven. Sidntate aqui," or
"For instance, if mom would tell her to go take a bath, he would say 'No, Come here. Sit
down.'" Nancy's mother viewed this behavior as an overt challenge to her parental
authority that would eventually lead to disrespectful behavior from the foster child.
Consequently, this rule, I concluded, is established to prevent prest adott~~~~tttt~~~ children from
undermining foster parent authority.
Not only do biological parents visit the foster home, but children will make trips to
visit their families as well. Under the prestttttttttttttttttado agreement, foster parents are obliged to
send their hijos de crianza on family visits. "Yo la he Ilevado donde su mamad do
vece, "or "I have taken her to her mother' s two times," Amanda said referring to the times
she has taken Sonia to visit her family in Haiti. "Yo se la llevo alla. Yo se la llevo pa
que ella la yea," or "I take her to them over there. I take her so that they can see her,"
she added. Children, I found, are usually sent during school holidays such as Semana
Santa or Holy Week and/ or summer vacation. Foster families must arrange as well as
pay for the child's trip. During these visits, it is common for foster parents to give gifts
to biological parents, particularly to the mother. "Yo no le mando a~si si no, cuando voy
de ve en cuando, le Ilevo su compra, le Ilevo su quiniento peso, dependiendo lo que
pueda," "I don't send her money like that. When I go I take her some groceries. I take
her five- hundred pesos or so. I give her what I can afford," Amanda explained.
Although these gifts are expected, they are not required. They are optional and carried
out at the foster parent' s discretion.
Visitation in Regalado Arrangements- Exceptions to the Rules
Despite the fact that biological parents in regalado arrangements relinquish their
visitation privileges, I learned that violations to these rules occur. These unwelcome
visits will most likely create conflicts between families, as well as with the child.
Zuleyka, Chana and Miguel's case, a family in Loma de Cabrera, illustrates such an
instance. Despite the fact that Zuleyka was regalad as an infant, her biological mother
occasionally visits her at her foster home. Zuleyka spoke to me about the tense
encounters. "No me gusta su compaiti" or "I don't like her company," she stated in a
somewhat harsh tone.
What happens during these visits? How are these violations handled? Although
these visits are unwelcome, Chana and Miguel still abide by the visitation norms that
dictate that they must welcome Zuleyka' s biological mother into their home and treat her
as a guest. "Yo soy que le digo a ella: 'Julissa, mira tzi mama~.' Pero ella la trata mal.
Yo le digo que no la trate asi. La madre se pone a llorar, or "I tell her, 'Zuleyka, here
is your mother,' but she treats her badly. I tell her not to treat her like that. Her mother
starts to cry," she said as she revealed her condemnation of her daughter' s behavior.
Zuleyka' s biological mother is entitled to deferential treatment. She is "su madre que la
echo al mundo" or "her mother that brought her to this world." Thus, I concluded, blood
ties are kept in high regard. Zuleyka, according to Chana, should be appreciative of her
biological mother. After all, she would not be here if it were not for her.
As I proceeded with my interviews, I learned that visitations in regalado
arrangements can also foster altercations amongst foster and biological parents.
Unwelcome visitations can cause latent parental authority conflicts to surface, as Dofia
Ramona's experience illustrates:
Tess: iEl la venia a visitar?
Doila RamRRRRRRRR~~~~~~~~~ona: Si. Entonce ~I le traia a ella quesito y bolone, cosa que ~I no
debia de dcisela. Tenia que dasela a lo que ~I tenia. Poque a ella no le hacia falta.
Tess: Did he come and visit her?
Dofia Ramona: Yes. He would bring her cheese and candy, things he should not
give her. He needed to give them to the kids he was raising. She was not in need
of any of that.
Why did Dofia Ramona reject these seemingly innocuous gifts? When similar
conflicts resurfaced in my interview with Chichi and her husband in Loma de Cabrera, I
concluded that Dofia Ramona' s comments were indicative of an issue that is of central
importance in the hilo de crianza system, that is, parentage is also determined by the
expenditures childrearing involves.
Tess: iLos padres de ella les dandddddd~~~~~~~dddddd dinero para Elena?
Foster father: No, nada. Ni nosotro queremo eso ttttttttttttttttampoco.
Tess: iPor qud no?
Foster father: Porque si nosotro vamo a ser, quisimo haceno reponsable a ella,
entonce nosotro no podemo aceta de que ella entonce tenga ch, do papa. .. Yo
no toy de acuedo con eso porque entonce, un tiempo, eh, nosotro vamo a peidd,
vamo a peide el apoyo. g Ve?
Tess: Do Elena's parents give you money for her?
Foster father: No, nothing. We don't want them to, either.
Tess: Why not?
Foster father: Because if we are going to be, if we chose to be responsible for her,
we can't accept that she has um, two fathers. I don't agree with that because then,
in time, we are going to loose, we are going to loose, how can I say, the girl's
support. You see?
The sharing of childrearing obligations in the hijo de crianza system is
discouraged. As Chichi's husband and Dofia Ramona suggested, foster parents view any
contribution towards child sustenance as inherent challenges to parental guardianship and
authority. Foster parents view gifts as incursions into their parental authority since
"primary economic support ... becomes the responsibility of the caretaker family"
(Smucker & Murray, 2004, p. 78). For Elena' s foster father, accepting money from the
biological father undermines his parental authority and role. As Elena's father, it is his
responsibility to bear the financial burden of her upbringing. This responsibility is what,
in essence, makes him a father.
Termination- Ending the Fosterage Agreement
The greatest difference between the prestadott~~~~~tttt~~~~ and regalado fosterage modalities has
to do with the right to annul the agreement. Prestttttttttttttttttado modalities allow biological parents
to terminate the arrangement; regalado ones do not. In prestttttttttttttttttad arrangements, the
transfer of parental guardianship is temporary and partial (Eloundou-Enyengue & Stokes,
2002). Biological parents can reclaim their children at any time. For instance, Dofia
Milagros, a woman from La Seyba raising a Haitian girl said, "Se la devuelvo, or "I
give her back to him," when I inquired about what would happen if her parents reclaimed
her foster daughter. I posed a similar question to Amanda, who is also from La Seyba.
"Tenga. Porque esa hija e de ella. Si ella un dia decide o eta decide que se quiere ir,
pue yo, yo lo que no hago e dique aqui y alli. Yo voy ay se la llevo y 'Tenga!' Donde yo
la encontrd, or "Here, take her. That daughter belongs to her. If one day she decides or
the girl decides she wants to leave, well I, I am not going to be going from here to there.
I will go and take her and say, 'Take her!' I will give her back to them in the same place
where they gave her to me," she explained.
Prestttttttttttttttttado arrangements also allow foster families to end arrangements as well.
Foster parents have the right to end the arrangement at any time. Dofia Ramona and I
also spoke about a time when she exercised this right with a previous hija de crianza.
"Dede que vi que se taba enamorando y a encompinchase con otra ma que venia dique a
buscala, digo, 'Yo lo siento, or "The moment I saw she was having crushes and having
friendships with another girl that would come to get her, I said 'I'm sorry,'" she
explained. "Ella se queria independiza, or "She wanted to become independent."
Consequently, Amanda chose to terminate the arrangement and returned her daughter to
her biological parents.
Termination in Regalado Agreements?- Exceptions to the Rule
Doha RamRRRRRRRR~~~~~~~~~ona: El sabe, 41 sabe que ya ella le cocina, le puede hacei todo porque
yo le enc~l~~i) como si fuera mi hija. Yo le di una crianza como si fuera hija mia de
vedd. Que sufrimuchisimo! Uy, que si Ilord much! Y me dabavoluntd de lord
cuando yo cocinaba, que yo veia que la muchacha no taba aqui. Porque yo sabia
el hamnbre que ello pasa~ban por ahi. Muchisimo yo sufri. Todo ese cariho se
Dofia Ramona: He knows that she can cook for him. He knows that she can do
everything because I taught her as though she were my child. I raised her like she
was my real daughter. I suffered so much! Wow, did I cry! I would cry when I
was cooking and I would see that the girl was no longer here. I knew the hunger
they were going through over there. I suffered so much! All that affection was
Dofia Ramona as well as many other informants claim that biological parents will
often reclaim their children when their offspring are old enough and capable of
contributing to the household economy. Dofia Ramona makes this quite clear at the
beginning of the excerpt and throughout the entire interview. Jaqueline's father relocated
his daughter, Dofia Ramona claims, when she was a liability, that is, when she was an
ailing infant that required constant attention and care. However, he retrieved her the
moment that Jaquelin had grown up and had the knowledge and strength to carry out
At that point, multiple questions regarding the regalad arrangement came to my
mind. What mechanisms does the regalad fosterage arrangement use to seal regalad
arrangements? Is there an irreversible way in which parental guardianship and custody is
transferred. Chicha, a foster mother in her forties, shed light on this topic in the interview
we had in La Cienaga, a small settlement north of San Jose de Ocoa. In the following
passage, Chicha is responding to my inquiries about the way in which regalad fosterage
arrangements are terminated.
Tess: Y si la~s mamd~s vienen a pe dir el niho, g tienen que devolverlo?
Chicha: Si, por lo meno, si a ustd se lo dandddddd~~~~~~~dddddd hoy y entire, de aqui al lune vienen y se
lo quitan, y si ustd no hace un papel, si ustd no hace un papel.
Tess: Se lo tengo que devolver.
Chicha: Si, pero si ustd hace un papel, a ustd no se lo quita nadie porque eso no.
Tess: What happens if the mothers return and ask for the child back, do you have
to return them?
Chicha: Yes, at least, if you receive the child today and she comes on Monday and
they take him away; if you haven't made a paper, if you haven't done a paper.
Tess: I have to return him.
Chicha: Yes, but if you have a paper made, no one can take him away.
Kinship and Civil Identity- "Papeles" or "Papers"
The paper Chicha is referring to is of utmost significance in the regalado modality.
When a child is regalado con papeles or given away with papers, biological parents
allow foster parents to register the child at the Registro Civil or Civil Registry. Foster
parents register the child' s birth as if they shared a genetic bond, that is, as if they had
engendered the child themselves. Chicha made sure that Keila, her foster daughter would
not be taken away by specifically negotiating these terms with the biological father and
registering the child as if she herself had given birth to her. In the event that Keila' s
custody was ever contested, Chicha would have a "legal", written document that
legitimizes her claim to parentage.
This chapter has discussed two maj or topics: (1) the multiple benefits which foster
parents derive from foster children and (2) the competition between foster parents and
biological parents. The visitation rights which biological parents remain over "lent"
children can threaten the exclusive emotional bond which it is in the interest of the foster
parent to encourage in the foster child. But even more seriously, we have seen that the
maneuvers on the part of biological parents to terminate fosterage arrangements can
totally sabotage any long term benefits to the foster parent.
As I have mentioned throughout this chapter, child relocation in the Dominican
Republic is carried out systematically and follows a specific set of norms. The hilo de
crianza system allows biological parents to relinquish or transfer their childrearing rights
and obligations to varying degrees by selecting one of two agreements-the prestttttttttttttttttado or
regalad modalities. Although both of these arrangements share similarities in regards to
the rights and obligations surrounding childrearing and offspring responsibilities, they
differ in a fundamental way- the biological parent's right to reclaim child custody. This
menaces the long-term benefits which foster parents expect in the cultural norms of the
However, a fundamental question still remains unanswered. Why do biological
parents give up children? And why do foster parents take in children? Why do they
make this apparently difficult choice? As will be seen in the next chapter, parents give
up or take in children for a variety of reasons.
WHY DO PEOPLE GIVE UP OR TAKE INT CHILDREN?
The preceding chapter discussed the basic contours of the Dominican child
relocation system and its two modes of operation. We also discussed cost-benefit
calculations that appear to be in existence. In this chapter I will discuss the factors that
motivate people to enter into the arrangement. Lest this be seen as redundant, I wish to
point out that this decision to give up or take in a child is different from the simple
question of the "value of children" that was discussed in the preceding chapter. Recall:
all parental behavior can be construed (or misconstrued) in the language of"cost-benefit
calculations." But not all parents give up their children or take in the children of others.
What is it that motivates a subset of people to do cost-benefit calculations on other
people's children? And what "cost-benefit" factors lead some people to give up their
For societies unfamiliar with the practice, child fosterage might seem appalling.
How can parents voluntarily give up their offspring to be raised by other people? Why
would someone in their right mind assume the responsibility of raising someone else' s
child particularly when there is often no legal documentation to legitimize the
arrangement? An arrangement such as this and its subsequent legal implications are
difficult to imagine in a society as litigious as the United States. An arrangement that
involves the provision of food, clothing, shelter and schooling in exchange for domestic
labor on the part of the child, automatically conjures images of Cinderella and the evil
triad of the stepmother and stepsisters.
Although adoptions are widely accepted and practiced throughout the west, rarely
do they take place in the manner in which it does in the prestttttttttttttttttado or lent and regalad or
given away arrangements. In the event that a child cannot be raised by his or her
biological father or mother, the state must intervene to ensure the child's welfare.
Legally established guardianship is mandatory in order to execute such routine tasks as
signing a child's permission slip to attend a school field trip or to consent to a medical
procedure. Parentage in countries such as the United States can only be legitimized by
the authority of the State.
The notion that children are best raised by their biological parents is not, however,
universal. Parenting is conceptualized differently in many societies (Isiugo-Abanihe,
1985, p. 54). In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, parents do not think of themselves as
the exclusive owners of offspring (Page, 1989). On the contrary, children are believed to
be the property of the entire lineage. Parentage in other African societies, particularly
those located in the westernmost countries, is not defined by filiation or biological
relationships in its entirety (Isiugo-Abanihe, 1985). Behavioral roles are equally, if not
more important. This is also the case in the Caribbean. Smucker and Murray (2004) state
that nuclear family members throughout the Caribbean often reside in multiple
households. My findings confirm these conclusions, as well.
Parentage in the Dominican Republic is determined by conduct as well as by
biological bonds. Although genetic relationships lie at the core of intimate kin group
membership, behavior can be of equal, if not more relevance. This excerpt from an
interview I conducted with Amantina, a former foster daughter from Loma de Cabrera,
illustrates my point. At the time, I was asking her why her family had given her up.
Tess: iY porqud usted se fue a vivir con ese \Ieilkir?
Larisa: iCon Papd? Porque yo taba nilla y ~I me reconocio y todo como hija del.
Tess: jlPero el no es papd suyo?
Larisaa: Si... no, pero yo lo quise como mi papd. Y si vuelve y resucita, ese e mi
Tess: And, why did you go live with that gentleman?
Larisa: With Father? Because I was a girl and he registered and legally recognized
me as his daughter.
Tess: But, he isn't your father, right?
Larisa: Yes, no, but I loved him as my father. And if he returns and comes back
from the dead, that's my father.
The manner in which I posed my initial question revealed my own bias that
parentage is exclusively determined by biology. To me, the man who raised Larisa was
not her real father because they did not share a biological bond. The fact that I referred to
Larisa' s father as "ese \Ieiibr" or "that gentleman" baffled her. She immediately
clarified that the "\eilbr I am referring to is in effect, "Papd or "Father", that is, the
person she shared the affective father-child bond with. This \Ieibr,l she proclaimed, was
indeed her "real" father. He even legally recognized her as such, she clarified. However,
at the time, I still did not grasp the true meaning of her words. Once again, I asked
Amantina whether or not her "Papd was her father. Confused, Amantina briefly
hesitated. Although perplexed by my question, she responded. No, "Papd wasn't her
biological father, but she loved him as if he were. Were he to be born again, she would
still love him as her true father.
The fact that behavior, not biology determines parentage is best articulated in the
following statement. In this instance, one of the foster mothers I interviewed in Loma de
Cabrera is explaining her relationship with her foster daughter.
Ella tiene su mamnd y su papd. Su madre que la echo al mundo y su papd que la
engendro. Pero madre es la que cria.
She has her mother and her father. Her mother that brought her to this world and
her father that bore her. But mother is the person that rears you.
The adage "ma~dre es la que cria" or "mother is the person that rears you" is used
throughout the Dominican Republic. I heard it many times as I was growing up,
particularly during Dia de la~s padres or Mother' s Day. In the Dominican Republic,
giving birth does not automatically qualify you as a mother. You must behave as a
mother to be a mother. Mothers feed, clothe, educate, provide schooling and nurture
children. Isiugo Abanihe (1985) had similar findings in his study of West African
fosterage practices. When inquiring about the identity of a child's parents, he would
often have to ask two different sets of questions: "Who bore you?" and "Who reared
you?" to get a clear answer (p. 54). I had to ask similar questions throughout my
fieldwork, as well.
Altruism or Self- Interest: Questions About Human Nature
Why do parents give up or take in children? This question, which at first seemed
straightforward, ended up being a perplexing matter. For instance, each fosterage case I
encountered was the product of a particular combination of forces that challenged
analyses and generalizations. Moreover, I was unable to speak with many of the sending
families, especially Haitian biological parents. Consequently, my analyses, particularly
in regards to the Haitian parent fosterage decision making process, rely heavily on
second-hand information. Finally, in trying to answer this question, I realized that I was,
in essence, making what Wilk (1997) calls "assumptions and ideas about the essential
nature of human beings", (p. 34). I was trying to decide whether parents gave up or took
children in a "self-interested or altruistic" fashion (p. 35).
The following excerpt from my interview with Dofia Ramona, the foster mother
from Yamasa I have mentioned, helps illustrate this dilemma:
Cuando a mi me dieron esa niha, yo vivia en La Cuaba. Ella tenia un pardsito
malo. Tenia una infeccion vaginal. Ella taba enferma. Yo gatd much dinero!
M~ucho! La puse que el que la veia, no decia que era la ni~a. La puse limpia y
bonita. Pero ei papd, cuando la vio limpia, que ya le podia hacei oficio me la
I lived in La Cuaba when the girl was given to me. She had a bad parasite. She
had a vaginal infection. She was sick. I spent a lot of money! A lot! People did
not recognize the girl when they saw her after I had her. I cleaned her up and made
her pretty. But when her father saw that she was clean and that she could help him
with housework, he wanted to take her from me.
Does Dofia Ramona's mention of her childrearing expenses denote a "self-
interested" (Wilk, 1997, p. 35) motive for taking in her foster daughter? Does the
biological father' s intention of reclaiming his daughter when she was old enough to
perform household duties reveal a concern for his own personal advantage? My
conversation with Chichi, a foster mother from Loma de Cabrera, reveals similar
Chichi: Ahora, si ello vienen y me la quieren quitd a la fueza y ella no quiere irse,
y yo entonce yo puedo por lo meno, cobrale a ello el tiempo.
Tess: iComo asi, cobrarle el tiempo?
Chichi: Es decir, si ella tiene, vamo a deci ocho mese conmigo, yo puedo, si yo
quiero, porque yo no lo toy haciendo, yo puedo llevd vamo a decir, como un rd cor
de todo lo que ella consume, porque ttttttttttttttttampoco no e que uno puede Ileva esa cuenta.
Porque imaginese! Pero alguna cosa, uno por lo meno, sabe que si ella se enferma
y uno la lleva al medico, eh, uno no sabe hata donde se va uno gatando en ella.
Que son sacrificio que uno hace, g vedd '?
Chichi: Now, if they come and want to take her away from me by force and she
doesn't want to go, I can then at least, charge them for the time.
Tess: What do you mean charge them for the time?
Chichi: I mean, if she has been, let' s say, eight months with me, I can, if I like, not
that I am doing it, I can keep a record of everything we spend on her. Not that one
can keep such a record. Imagine that! But some things, one can at least, if she is
sick and we take her to the doctor, um, one doesn't know how much we can end up
spending on her. It's a sacrifice we are making, right?
Once again, does Chichi's intention of keeping receipts of her childrearing
expenditures suggest self-interested motives? Dofia Ramona and Chichi's experiences,
as well as excerpts from other interviews stirred up multiple questions. What do parents
consider when deciding to give up or take in a child? Is the hijo or hija de crianza system
governed by market principles of supply and demand? Is the decision to take in or give
up a child based on economic rationale? Are foster children in the Dominican Republic,
in effect, commodified?
The self-interested or altruistic motive has also been addressed in child fosterage
literature. In her book Parenthood~~PPP~~~PP~~~PP and Social Reproduction (1982), Goody examines the
numerous factors that influence the fosterage decision making process of the Gonj a in
Northern Ghana. Goody encountered difficulties while trying to assign a "defining
characteristic" (p. 252) to each arrangement. On the one hand, evidence led her to
support a self-interested, rational explanation. Yet, she also detected explanations that
focused on altruistic motives. "Which interpretation is correct?" (p. 252), Goody
wondered, as did I. Isiugo-Abanihe (1985) engages this issue in Child fosterage in West
Afr~ica. This article, which tries to bring attention to child fosterage practices particularly
in the Hield of demography, confronts similar questions in trying to establish the factors
behind child relocation. Children, Isiugo-Abanihe concludes, are fostered "by both stable
and unstable families, married and single mothers, healthy and handicapped parents, rural
and urban homes, and wealthy and poor parents" (p. 56). Consequently, families respond
to an assortment of motivators, both rational and altruistic.
In their study of the effects of African economic crises on child fosterage practices
between urban and rural families, Eloundou-Enyengue and Stokes (2002) address these
theoretical considerations. Their quantitative study of child relocation in Cameroon
assumes that parents give up or take in children with economic calculations in mind.
However, fosterage practices, the authors admit, are in reality driven by "altruism,
economic rationality, or adherence to social norms" (p. 281). Thus, their study only
addresses one of the three possible motivating factors behind the practice.
In their study of fosterage practices in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Smucker
and Murray (2004) noted the presence of an economic rationale in the fosterage decision-
making process. In Haiti, fosterage choices are "based on a calculus of costs, benefits,
and household needs" (p. 26). The inability of Haitian parents to provide sustenance for
their children is the principal motivating factor. Dominican foster parents, on the other
hand, are heavily influenced by economic considerations, as well. Dominican parents
emphasize the "long-term calculations .. of having additional children who can be
counted on to love and care for you in sickness and old age" (p. 78).
Although cost-benefit calculations are undoubtedly present in my data, I found
evidence that can lead to alternative explanations. I encountered cases where rational
thought was not applicable. Parents, I found, sometimes base their decisions on "self-
interested" motives and explicitly framed childrearing in economic terms, while at other
times, they were driven by the interests of the social group to which they belonged. Even
more, I found that they were prompted to give up or take in a child as a response to moral
obligations or altruistic motivations. Like Goody (1982), I asked myself "which
interpretation is correct?" (p. 252). After much deliberation and inner debate, I
concluded that the parenting decision making process in the Dominican child fosterage
system needs to be addressed with a basic guiding principle in mind. To examine all
possibilities, it was imperative that I adopt a "combined model" of human nature (Wilk,
1996, p. 39) to thoroughly explain the practice.
With this "combined model" (p. 39) in mind, I attempted, once again, to examine
the decision to give up or take children in. In doing so, I was able to observe practices
that were "not simply occasional statistical anomalies in the otherwise even flow of
nuclear-family life" (Goody, 1982, p. 250). Using my respondent's explanations in
regards to their fosterage decision, as well as Goody (1982) and Isiugo-Abanihe's (1985)
classificatory system as a guiding framework, I arranged the Dominican child fosterage
system in eight categories, as Table 2 indicates. I divided the hijo de crianza system into
two main subdivisions. The first has to do with the reasons to give up a child: family
crisis, economic crisis, educational needs, alliance and apprenticeship. The second has to
do with the decision to take in a child: affective, domestic labor and infertility fosterage.
Table 4-1. Dominican child fosterage taxonomy.
A. Reasons to give up children B. Reasons to take in children
1. Family crisis 1. Affective fosterage
a. Death of a parent 2. Domestic labor
b. Divorce or separation 3. Infertility fosterage
2. Economic crisis
3. Educational fosterage
4. Alliance and apprentice fosterage
Child relocation cases that result from "the dissolution of the family of origin by
divorce, separation or death of a spouse" (Isiugo-Abanihe, 1985, p. 57) can be referred to
as crisis fosterage. This particular type of fosterage, which has been cited as being the
most frequent motivator behind the practice in the West Indies and in Latin America, was
the most common modality in my fieldwork. Over and over again, I confronted instances
that involved life-altering circumstances that prompted parents to give up or take in
children. Parents often turned to the hijo de crianza system to unravel their family and/or
The hijo de crianza system is indispensable in the resolution of several catastrophic
family situations. It allows parents to gain access to resources and support through their
kin and non-kin networks. The hijo de crianza system is often the only means through
which parents can rebuild their shattered livelihoods. Children are sent to live with other
families, mostly with members of their kin groups, as a consequence of marriage or union
terminations, remarriages, death of one or both parents and abandonment. As the
following section reveals, fosterage situations are often the most fitting solution to
resolve parental deaths.
Death of Parent
One of the family crisis situations I encountered during my fieldwork involved the
death of parents. Child fosterage is often the course of action adopted in all three
possible parental death scenarios. Isabel's story, which I recounted in Chapter 2,
illustrates the first scenario- the death of a mother. Luisin, Isabel's foster son, does not
have a mother. She died at childbirth. Consequently, Luisin is being raised by his
father' uncle' wife.
Junior' s case, a seven-year-old boy from La Seyba illustrates another of the
possible death scenarios. Junior has lived with his grandmother Amanda from the day he
was born. "Porque el e huerfano de padre. No conoce a su padre," or "He is an orphan
from his father' s side. He did not meet his father," his grandmother explained. "Al1
padre lo mataron que tenia la mamnd tre mese de embarazo, or "His father was killed
when his mother was three months pregnant," she continued. "Ei iba en un motor y lo
chocd un camnidn, or "He was on a motorcycle and was hit by a truck," Amanda
revealed. But why did Junior' s mother choose not to raise Junior herself! It was
inevitable, I was told. Junior's mother had no choice. "Como ella no tiene ninguin
recurs de nada, yo me quedd, el niffo nacid en poder mio, "or Since she does not have
any kind of resources, I kept, the boy was born in my care. He was bomn here and I kept
him here so she could get on her way," she explained. "She does not have a husband to
help her. She does not have a house. She does not have anything."
Wilfredo's child relocation case illustrates the last possible scenario- the death of
both parents. Both of Wilfredo's parents are dead. Wilfredo lived with his uncle in Haiti
prior to living with his current family in the Dominican Republic. Although Nefertiti, his
Dominican foster sister told me his story, she did not know how his parents died.
Divorce or Separation
La ley dice que las hembras son de los padres y los varones son de la mamd. The
law says that girls belong to the fathers and boys belong to the mothers. Nora,
nurse in Loma Dura
The dissolution of marriages or consensual unions was the most frequently quoted
reason behind the fosterage cases I observed. Over and over again, the hijo de crianza
system was relied upon to settle child custody disputes. Maternal or paternal
grandmothers habitually become foster parents to their grandchildren from broken
homes. Nonetheless, I noted the existence of very specific norms that regulate this type
of relocation practice. Although these rules are culturally enforced and are absent from
Dominican family laws, I found that they often permeate and inform official settlements
of child custody disputes. Nora, the nurse from Loma Dura, was the first person to speak
of the norms that dictates that "girls belong to the fathers and the boys belong to the
Nora met and married her first husband, Cespedes, when she was only eighteen.
Although most couples in El Bejucal, where she grew up, do not get married, Nora had a
church wedding. The nuns where Nora worked, she revealed, threatened to fire her if she
did not adhere to their precepts. Consequently, Nora and Cespedes acquiesced. Shortly
after, Nora was pregnant with Sodelys, her first child.
Pregnancies, I thought, were supposed to be joyous occasions. However, Nora' s
recollection of her pregnancy is not entirely pleasant. It was during this time that she
discovered her husband' s long-standing infidelities. "Y yo no lo acetd, or "And I did not
accept it," she asserted. So Nora left her husband and returned to her mother' s home,
where a few months later, Sodelys was born.
Nora and her mother performed and shared all childrearing duties. "La do haciamoiii~~~~~iiiii~~~~
todo or "Both of us would do everything," she explained when I asked her about the
childrearing distribution of labor. Cespedes did not provide any resources for Sodely's
However, Nora' s direct involvement in her daughter' s upbringing ended when she
left for Santo Domingo to attend nursing school and subsequently obtained her current
position as assistant nurse at the Loma Dura rural clinic. Nora left her daughter Sodelys,
behind with her mother. "Que la tenga mi mamna es igual que yo" or "If my mom has her
it' s the same as if it were myself." In effect, Nora' s mother became an extension of
herself in regards to Sodelys' upbringing.
A few months after she arrived at her new j ob, Nora met and fell in love with
Rafelo, one of the local farmers in Loma Dura. Why, I asked, didn't she reclaim her
daughter, I asked. "Porque el papa della era muy egoita, or "Because her father was
very selfish," she said emphatically. "El me d'ecia que si yo me casaba, ~I me quitaba a
Norelys. Que me la quitaba, que me la quitaba y se la llevaba, or "He would tell me
that if I remarried, he would take Sodelys away from me. He said he would snatch her
from me and take her away." Cespedes refused to have Sodelys live with another man.
Despite Cespedes' repeated threats, Nora married Rafelo. How had Nora stymied
her husband's efforts to take his daughter, I wondered. Nora, I learned, turned to the
local district attorney for assistance and advice. ". yo le explique la situaci6n, porque
nada mas que el [Cespedes] la [Sodelys] quiere much, pero no le daba recursos," or "I
explained the situation to him because he [Cespedes] says he loves her [Sodelys] so
much but does not give her any money," she replied. "El me dijo que si 41 no queria que
yo la tuviera con un hombre, 41ttttt~~~~~~tttttampoco la podia tener con una mujer, que mejor se la
dejara a mi mama, or "He told me that if he didn't want me to have Sodelys with
another man, he can't have her with another woman, either," she declared. The district
attorney, I learned, told Nora she could marry whomever she pleased. But, to my
surprise, he did not grant her custody of Sodelys. Her daughter was to stay at her
grandmother' s home.
I was at first, baffled by the district attorney's recommendation. Why had he
failed to grant Nora custody of Sodelys, especially since Cespedes had never contributed
to his daughter' s upbringing? Did Nora' s statement: "Cespedes refused to have Sodelys
with another man" have anything to do with the ruling? When I asked Nora what she had
meant by this statement, she responded "Se han oido mucha~s historia,"or "One has heard
many stories," she responded. "Se han oido mucha~s historians de madres que tienen hijas
con hombres que no son los padres de ella~s y luego viven con ella~s," or"One has heard
many stories of mothers that have daughters with men that are not their parents. They
end up living with them," she confessed. Nora, I concluded, was referring to the
widespread occurrence of sexual abuse and incest in the Dominican Republic.
At that moment, another cultural dichotomy surfaced. In the previous chapter we
emphasized the difference between "lending" children and "giving up" children. That
neat dichotomy was complicated when I was forced to hypothesize yet another
dichotomy: the existence of two distinct child custody systems, one for boys, another for
girls. To explore my hypothesis, I asked Nora what would have happened if Sodelys
were a boy, instead of a girl. Her response corroborated my initial conclusions, "Era mas
facil varon que hembra. El hubiera dicho: 'Si, Ilivatelo. Pero era hembra y la ley dice
que la~s hembra~s son de los padres, or "It would've been easier with a boy than with a
girl. He would've said 'Take him with you'. But she is a girl and the law says that girls
belong to the fathers; boys to the mothers."
Nora' s consultation with the province's district attorney and her certainty of the
content of Dominican family law prompted me to research this particular matter in
further depth. I searched the new Codigo de Nihos, Niha~s, y Adolescentes (2003) for any
such law, as well as consulted with three attorneys. There was no such stipulation. I had
serendipitously stumbled, through ethnographic probing, onto yet another cultural
dichotomy that had no formal basis in the law.
Diana, a foster mother in Loma Dura, also spoke to me about this "law". Josefina,
Diana's daughter, has a story very similar to Nora' s. Once Josefina learned of her
husband's infidelities, she returned to her parents' home with Fior, her two-year-old
daughter. When Juana left her home to work as a maid in nearby San Jose de Ocoa, she
left Fior with her grandmother. A year later, Juana met another man and remarried.
However, she did not take her daughter to her new home. Fior remained with her
grandmother. When I asked why Josefina had not taken her daughter with her, Diana
Bueno, porque nosotros no lo aceptamos.~~~~tttt~~~~ttt .. Porque yo le explique, 'Bueno, mi
hija, yo quiero que tui comprendas que si tui vas a irte con ese hombre, tui sabes que
~I no es el papa de esa ni~a. Entonces, el papa de ella dice que el puesto de esa
niha se lo tengo yo. Que yo soy quien se de ella. Porque el esposo que ella tiene,
no es su papa. Es un hombre bueno que la quiere como si fuera hija del. i Usted
ve? Y no es un hombre que uno le conozca, que no es capaz de ninguna cosa,
como se ha visto. Pero, uno sabe que no es supapa.
Well, because we didn't accept it. Because I told her, 'Well, daughter, I want you to
understand that if you are going to go away with that man, you know that he is not
that girl's father. The girl's father says that she belongs with me, that I am the one
that knows about that child.' Because the husband that she has is not her father.
He is a good man that loves her like a daughter, you see? And he is a man that we
know is not capable of anything of those things we've heard of. But, one knows he
is not her father.
Like Nora, Diana had also made reference to the impending need to protect girls
from sexual abuse. Although I was troubled by this recurring theme, it was the response
to my following question that reconfirmed Nora' s initial reference to child custody "law".
I asked Diana if Josefina had ever attempted to reclaim her daughter' s custody. "No, ella
no me la ha pedido nunca porque ella sabe que no tiene derecho a pedirmela, or "No,
she has never asked me for her because she knows she doesn't have the right to ask me
for her," she declared. "Porque ella se dejo de ese hombre y ella se fue con ese otro
hombre. Pero ella sabe que ella estd~ con ese otro hombre que no es el papd de la niha,
or "Because she left that other man and went away with another one. She knows she is
with that other man and he is not the girl's father," she explained. "En una comparacion,
ella me quisiera hacer fuerza a mi para que yo se la dd, ella pierde los derechos, or
"Even if she, for example, wanted to force me into giving her up to her, she loses her
rights," she clarified. "La juticia no acuerda eso," she added, "The law does not support
that." "Si la madre tiene otro esposo, que no es su pap, la justicia no va de acuerdo a
que esa mamnd tenga ese niho" or "If the mother has another husband, that is not the
father, the law will not support that the mother has the child," she affirmed.
Page (1989) describes somewhat similar child relocation practices in West Africa.
In the following excerpt she describes child relocation patterns that result from marriage
or union dissolutions in matrilineal societies:
Where they belong to the mother' s lineage, they may stay with her for a while. If
she remarries, however, it may be considered preferable for her to delegate
responsibility to one of her female kin than to take the children with her into the
new marriage. (p. 45)
Page's description undoubtedly shares similarities with the arrangement Diana and
Nora spoke about. The West African practice Page (1989) made reference to was based
on the assumption that spouses or co-wives mistreat children from previous unions (Silk
1989). In both instances, women preferred child relocation over co-residence with the
new spouse. Her description, however, did not make distinctions between make and
female offspring. Perhaps in the African case the driving factor is fear of loss of the
child's labor, which belongs to a particular kin group. Meanwhile, in the Dominican
context, the driving fear is that of sexual abuse, to which girls are more vulnerable than
boys (G. F. Murray, personal communication, November 24, 2005). At that point, it
became imperative that I examine the underlying reasons behind this gender-determined
fosterage practice. My visit to the Casa de la M~ujer Villa Altagraciana, a nonprofit
group that works on multiple women's issues, including domestic violence, shed light on
the gravity of sexual abuse and incest in the Dominican Republic.
Amarra tu gallina, que mi gallo anda suelto. Tie up your chickens that my rooster
One morning while in at Loma Dura, my attention was drawn to where I had heard
frenzied wing flutters and squawks. A few feet away from me, Altagracia' s gallo manilo,
a rooster breed, assaulted one of her chickens. When the gallo manilo closed in on its
victim, copulation eventually occurred. Dominicans refer to this process as "pisar"
which literally means "step on". Unfortunately, this choice of words, as well as the
behavior I had just witnessed, closely resembled actual human sexual behavior.
Unfortunately, chicken and rooster mating behavior is viewed by many Dominicans as
illustrative of male attitudes and behavior towards women.
Rooster mating behavior is used in many Dominican adages. For instance,
"ama''''~~~~~~''''~rra tu gallina que mi gallo anda suelto. or "tie your chickens up that my rooster is
loose" is commonly used to refer to a parents' need to protect daughters from
unrestrained roosters or men. And Dominican roosters are always unrestrained. As an
attorney from the Casa de la Mujer Villaltagraciana, a non-profit group that works
against domestic violence explained, "A2 los varones los crian para la calle, mientras que
a las nila~s las crian para la casa. A las mujeres las crian y las encil~ranll a que obedezcan
a los hombres, or "Boys are raised for the streets, while women are raised for the home.
Women are raised for the home and taught to obey men," she added. Consequently, it is
a parent's, specifically a biological father's burden to ensure that daughters stay at home
where they are protected and guarded from men. The hijo de crianza system is one way
to keep daughters from getting "stepped on" by their stepfathers. This is why Cespedes,
Nora' s husband, and the District Attorney prohibited Sodelys from living with Rafelo,
Fosterage instances that "redistribute the availability of services between
households with many children, where they may be a liability, and those with few, where
they will be an asset" is referred to as economic crisis fosterage (Isiugo Abanihe, 1985, p.
57). Many of the parents I spoke to cited their inability to provide sustenance for their
children to explain fosterage decisions. Dofia Ramona, for instance, claimed that her
foster daughter' s father was near suicide because of his inability to work and care for his
multiple children. Fabiola, a former foster daughter I met in Villa Altagracia, said "el
[papa] no no podia comprar ropa, zapato" or "he [father] could not buy us clothes,
shoes". This is also the case for Haitian parents (Smucker & Murray, 2004). "A ve si la
podian2 \sain F or "to see if they could save her" is what Elena' s foster parents said
prompted her Haitian biological parents to give up their child
Migration is a common motivating factor behind child relocation. Parents often
choose relocation as they migrate to other towns or countries in search of employment
opportunities. "The decline of the viability and attractiveness of agriculture as a way of
life" often prompts parents to migrate to other cities or countries in search of employment
opportunities (Smucker and Murray, 2004, p. 40). This is why Ana, Lourdes and Yoani,
three elementary school-aged girls in Loma de Cabrera, live with their aunt, Zoila. Luisa,