TO EDUCATION AND RIGHT TO THE PRESERVATION
HEALTH AND TO WELL-BEING
American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man
Every person has the right to an education, which should be based
on the principles of liberty, morality and human solidarity.
Likewise every person has the right to an education that will
prepare him to attain a decent life, to raise his standard of living,
and to be a useful member of society.
The right to an education
includes the right to equality of opportunity in every case, in
accordance with natural talents, merit and the desire to utilize the
resources that the state or the community is in a position to provide.
Every person has the right to receive, free, at least a primary
Every person has the right to the preservation of his health
through sanitary and social measures relating to food, clothing, housing
and medical care, to the extent permitted by public and community
It is difficult to evaluate the Haitian government’s effort to
promote these fundamental rights and the basic right to work discussed
in the next chapter because of its reluctance to provide up-dated
statistics to the relevant international agencies. While the Haitian
Constitution clearly establishes these rights (Article X), there is
little concrete evidence that there has been any systematic effort to
ensure their full development.
A commitment to the full development of these rights is seriously
limited in Haiti by a complex of restraining political and historical
factors which exacerbate problems created by conditions of absolute
poverty. A December 1978 World Bank Report estimates that 89.7% of the
rural population lives in this state of deprivation. Only 30% of the
land in Haiti can be cultivated because of its generally mountainous
character, and much of this relatively small area consists of plots that
have been subdivided so many times that they cannot provide subsistence
for a family. Erosion is a devastating problem caused by the wholesale
scalping of the forests for wood for export in the 19th
century and for the production of charcoal in this century, and is
seriously compounded by the lack of any governmental programs for the
improvement of agricultural techniques. There have been no official land
reform measures undertaken by the Haitian government, a condition that
is exacerbated by the large-scale seizure of peasant lands by local Ton
Ton Macoutes following any dispute or denunciation. Physical and
political constraints substantially overlap in Haiti: a population
density of 393 persons per square kilometer of arable land, a GNP of
$232 per capita in 1977, and severe over-utilization and erosion of the
soil, combine with and result from a history of government neglect of
the vast majority of the population.2
Government services that do exist, such as the agricultural support
services of the Department of Agriculture, are hampered by deficient
funding and insufficient personnel.3
The degree to which the economic fortunes of the Haitian people
are shaped by the contemporary political reality is reflected by the
World Bank’s analysis of governmental budgetary procedures. In 1977,
30% of all expenditures and 35% of total revenues were channeled through
special checking accounts held at the National Bank that made it
virtually impossible to determine their sources or eventual disposition.
Under these conditions, it is questionable whether badly needed foreign
assistance programs effectively reach their targets. The operations of
the government’s Régie du Tabac also indicate the vast reforms
necessary before respect for human rights can be more than a goal. (As a
monopoly of the Duvalier family, the Régie du Tabac has exclusive
control over the distribution of fish, cotton, evaporated, condensed and
fresh milk, butter, cheese, margarine, wine, champagne, whiskey, rum,
perfumes, dental products, soap, bandages, air conditioners,
automobiles, airplanes and most electrical appliances.) Additionally in
1977, the Régie collected G4.9 million but made only G2.9 million
available to the public treasury for general budgetary expenditures,
with the disposition of the remaining two million Gourdes not being
In analyzing these patterns, it is apparent that specific political
reforms must occur before the goals set forth in the Haitian
Constitution can begin to be fulfilled in the area of basic rights to
education and health.
Articles 29 and 180-1 of the Haitian Constitution establish a
goal of free, mandatory primary school education to reduce illiteracy.
The most recent figures available indicate that 76.7% of the Haitian
population is illiterate.5
The same source indicates that 85.5% of the population had no schooling
in 1971, and that only 4% had ever finished primary school. Haiti’s
compulsory education laws are of little more than academic interest
because there are often no suitable schools within reasonable distance
in the rural areas. As of 1974, the last year for which data is
available, the total government expenditure for education officially
equaled only G24 300.000 or $4,8 million representing expenditures of
0.7% of the GNP.6
The World Bank in 1978 calculated that this was the lowest rate of
expenditure in the world, adding that illiteracy was the highest in the
hemisphere at 83%, reaching over 90% in rural areas.
The Haitian government’s formal commitment to the preservation
of health and the general welfare is set out in Article 159 of the
Constitution: “The aim of the economic system is to ensure to all
members of the national community a decent life. It is based chiefly on
the principles of social justice.” However, in reality, “the
simplest necessities of life: shoes, adequate shelter, clean water to
drink and bathe in, are luxuries beyond the average family’s means.”7
For example, according to a 1978 World Bank Report, the most recent
estimates are that over 96% of occupied dwelling are without piped water
and less than 3% of all dwellings have access to electricity.
Haitian life-expectancy is among the lowest in the Western
hemisphere, estimated at just 52 years in the 1978 Report of the World
Bank. This same report gives the infant mortality as 149.1 per 1 000
live births, a figure surpassed by only one other country in the
hemisphere. The 1978 World Bank Report cites the death rate for children
age 1-4 at 33 per 1 000 in 1970, which represents an increase from 27
per 1 000 in 1960. In the latest WHO Vital Statistics Reports, the
Haitian government supplied only one of five figures requested from
participating governments. It is therefore impossible to assess the
improvement or worsening of Haiti’s infant health status.
The nutritional status of Haitians is probably the worst in the
Western hemisphere, leaving them most susceptible to disease, with over
75% of children under the age of five suffering from malnutrition.8
From the age of four months, children in Haiti exhibit subnormal growth
rates which worsen continuously, due to both caloric and protein
deficiencies. Subnormal growth culminates in great differences between
the 5% of urban children raised in wealthy families, and the average
rural child: by the teen years, there is a 50 pound difference in weight
and a six inch difference in height between these children.9
The morbidity and mortality rates of contagious diseases
associated with malnutrition—hyper endemic malaria, diarrhea,
amoebiasis, tuberculosis, kwashiorkor, avitaminosis, marasmus,
tetnus and yaws exist at perhaps the highest rates in the Western
In addition to children, women of childbearing age and men active in the
labor force have been selectively studied and found to be nutritionally
deficient, leading to low levels of both health and productivity: the
average protein intake per day is 39 grams, and the average calorie
intake is 1 700, figures which are very inferior to calculated minimum
The World Bank estimates that the minimum per capita cost for
consumption of the recommended minimum diet and essential nonfood items
would be G1 000 ($200) annually. By these estimates, over 90% of
Haiti’s population cannot afford this minimal standard of consumption.
So, the recommended minimum per capita calorie intake for Haiti is of
the order of 2 000 calories per day, yet a U.S. new study quoted by the
World Bank in 1979 found a national average of approximately 1700 per
day, totally unbalanced in proteins and fats. Many people suffer from
multiple nutritional deficiencies, with only 13% of all Haitian children
considered normally nourished in 1975.11
Even this number appear high when compared with the 9.6% in northern
urban and 8.1% in northern rural areas who are adequately nourished.
According to the 1978 Report of the World Bank,12
more than 50% of Haitian children under 5 suffer from such malnutrition
as to require medical care. The same report notes that Haiti was unique
in the hemisphere in having the highest decline in calorie intake while
at the same time having the lowest per capita calorie intake in 1971-73.
Dr. Kendall W. King concluded that, “Unless means can be found to
reactivate such vital governmental services as public works, education,
agriculture and health, it is unrealistic to anticipate any major
improvement in the nutritional status of the population.”13
The Duvalier government has taken few, if any, steps to reduce this
debilitating and pervasive malnutrition. In fact, a 1978 IADB Report
shows that the situation in some cases has worsened.
According to the World Bank, public health in Haiti in 1978 was
completely insufficient. Medical facilities and trained personnel in the
country are minimal. In 1970, there was one physician per 13 000
inhabitants, one nurse for 7 500 inhabitants, and 1.37 hospital beds per
1 000 inhabitants. However, in reality the situation is worse: one-half
of all physicians and high proportions of all health facilities are
concentrated in Port-au-Prince, and the majority of the population
receives no medical care. Over one-half of all doctors and nurses
trained in Haiti have gone into exile for political and economic
1 American Convention on Human Rights
Article 26. Progressive development
States Parties undertake to adopt measures, both internally and
through international cooperation, especially those of an economic
and technical nature, with a view to achieving progressively, by
legislation or other appropriate means, the full realization of the
rights implicit in the economic, social, educational, scientific,
and cultural standards set forth in the Charter of the Organization
of American States as amended by the Protocol of Buenos Aires.
2 World Bank Report, December 1978.
5 UNESCO, Statistical Yearbook 1977, 45 p.
7 Vera Rubin and Richard P. Schaeder, Eds. 1975. The Haitian
Potential: Research and Resources of Haiti. N.Y. Teachers
College Press. P. 158.
8 World Bank Report, p. 30.
9 Rubin and Schaeder, supra, p. 148.
10 WHO Statistical Annual, 1978.
11 World Bank Report of 1978, p. 64.
12 Economic and Social Progress in Latin America 1978, p.
13 Rubin and Schaeder, supra, p. 156.