On the first day of school, children often worry whether they'll make new friends or like their teachers. But in the Dominican Republic, some confront a far graver concern: Will I be turned away because I don't have a birth certificate?
The report, Left Behind: How Statelessness in the Dominican Republic Limits Children's Access to Education, shows that many children born in the Dominican Republic but descended from foreigners, particularly Haitians, are denied an education. For generations, such children were recognized as citizens, but within the last decade, the Dominican government has refused to issue many of them birth certificates, identity cards and other essential documentation, rendering them stateless. The report concludes that the Dominican Republic is failing to comply with its domestic and international human rights obligations, including the human right to education.
The report is the product of months of research, including interviews with dozens of affected children and families, as well as educators, advocates and government officials. Several of the Dominicans of Haitian descent interviewed were prevented from attending primary school, secondary school or university because they could not obtain identity documents. Of those allowed to attend school despite not having birth certificates, many were denied the ability to take national exams required to graduate.
All of this occurs in spite of laws, policies, constitutional provisions and international human rights commitments that are meant to guarantee children's right to education. The report found that administrative barriers, discrimination and confusion about the law has meant that in practice not all children in the Dominican Republic are allowed to go to school, even if they consider themselves Dominicans.
In this action brought by a transgender student against the National Service of Education (SENA), the Constitutional Court defended the right to education and the free development of the person by ordering that the student be allowed to wear a male uniform, that he be treated in accordance with his identity as a transgender man, and that the SENA implement a plan that promotes the respect and free development of the person, particularly regarding expressions of gender identity and sexual orientation.
In this decision, the Court found that the right to education of a disabled child had been violated when the educational institution did not award an official certificate of completion for his secondary education, even after the student had met all the requirements of his personalised education project (proyecto pedagógico individual or PPI) because his PPI did not comply with the minimum requirements under local regulations. The Court concluded that people with disabilities have the right to an inclusive education on an equal basis with others, and this includes the right to have their capabilities and accomplishments certified under equal conditions. ‘Equal conditions’ does not necessarily mean identical requirements but rather, making reasonable adjustments to ensure that individuals are treated as equals. Namely, the Court explained that the plaintiff, having met the specific requirements of his PPI and having attended and passed 5 years of courses at the institution, had the same right as his classmates that had met the requirements imposed on them to receive a certificate.
The Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (CLADE, by its Spanish acronym) is a pluralistic network of civil society organizations with a presence in 18 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, which promotes social mobilization and political advocacy to defend the human right to education. This collection of articles, essays and statements reflect on the vital role of public education in the region and the fault lines exposed by the pandemic, considering both the challenges public education in Latin America faces and possible solutions, alternatives and ways forward.