Haitian children in Dominican Republic, the fight for an identity

Deborah is 13 years old. She was born in Santo Domingo with a Dominican father and a Haitian mother. Her father died when she was 9 months old. Her mother had left her country with a passport and a visa and is a legal resident in the Dominican Republic. But Deborah did not have a birth certificate until a few months ago, in spite of all the years she had been living in the country; when her parents went to register her, the civil servant refused to do so because she was Haitian descendant.  During all these years, Deborah has been a girl without nationality, with no rights, non existent... 

This is the drama suffered by many children in Dominican Republic. Children without a nationality  because the Dominican administration has refused to give them birth certificates because of their Haitian origin (although the Constitution recognizes as Dominican citizens all people born in their territory). It is estimated that more than a quarter million people in the Dominican Republic are Haitian descendants. 

The lack of nationality makes more vulnerable a population that already lives in un human conditions in the most marginal urban settlements or in the "bayetes". In these sugar cane settlements, poverty rate is 70%, whilst in Dominican Republic it is 40%. Haitians are subject to terrible labour conditions, with insufficient wages to pay for the family food and no sanitary facilities, water, electricity nor schools. This population is frustrated by labour exploitation and the lack of schools and freedom of movement.

 

Is having a nationality so important? 

Not to have a birth certificate means that the person with no documents cannot have State protection. Since the person does not exist, crimes committed against him or her do not exist either. For example, if she is raped, she cannot sign an accusation and if murdered, no one would look for the culprit, since no one was murdered. A person with no documents is not entitled to a passport to move freely, or a bank account, or a car or a driver licence. Likewise, if he has technical skills, he will not be able to work since the person will need an identity card which is not issued without a birth certificate. Should he or she find a job, it would never be matching their capacities and never paid what they are worth, since they are illegal citizens. 

A person with no documents cannot receive social services such as sanitary aid, social security or a pension. 

A person with no documents is afraid to take legal action for fear of loosing his job and according to Mario Serrano, Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Service Director for Santo Domingo: "he has to do what the life they have created for him allows, not what he wants to do. He cannot develop his human potential in education, work or personal growth. This ends up by diminishing the way of thinking, of loving, of personal relationships."

We want to denounce among the rights denied to the Haitian descendants in Dominican Republic  the access to education and therefore "the right to a life with dignity and to overcome poverty is denied" says Mario Serrano. In Dominican Republic, the Haitian descendants are only allowed to attend school up to fourth grade, and in many cases thanks to the good will of the school directors. 

In addition, this population lives in the most depressed areas of the Dominican Republic so that the schools they attend have deficient infrastructures, very poor equipment and materials and with voluntary teachers with little training. The children are very often under nourished and very often do not even have shoes to go to school.


What lies behind this discrimination?

"On one hand we find social reasons. The poor migrants are regarded in most cases as a burden, even though they maintain our economy and carry out the harder work in our countries. Likewise, in the Dominican Republic the Haitian, because of the long and difficult relations, is regarded as an enemy. Therefore, they are regarded with contempt for being immigrant, for being Haitian, poor and black even though we are also black in Dominican Republic and have African roots. We are a country where racism is part of a culture that hurts us all" explains Mario Serrano. 

The fear of the Haitians taking over the country and to assume the consequences of Haiti's poverty is also due to economic reasons. Those who demand the expulsion of all Haitians and who are opposed to giving legal documents to Haitian descendants living in Dominican Republic are manipulated by those who exploit un documented workers. They do not want these people to demand their rights to nationality, social security, sanitary aid and education so that they can continue to exploit them.


Why does this occur? 

The International Convention on Children's Rights states the right to a nationality as a fundamental right of the person and the Dominican Constitution contemplates the principle of  ius soli that is to say the right to citizenship for those born in Dominican territory with the exception of those born from "transit" parents. The Dominican authorities use this in order not to give nationality even though the parents have been years and even decades in Dominican territory or that they are often fourth generation Haitians, whose grandparents were born in Dominican Republic and they have never set foot in Haiti.

 

Entreculturas works for the recognition and social inclusion of children with Haitian descent in Dominican Republic

From Entreculturas we want to denounce this situation and we support all activities of Fe y Alegría and the Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Service, our main local partners, carry out.


The JRMS: accompanying the migrant population

The JRSM tires to accompany the migrant population that arrives and which has supported the Dominican economy ever since the country has depended on the sugar cane industry. However, the effort of these cane cutting workers has never being recognized and not even now when they carry the burden of the building industry which is one of the growing Dominican industries. 

The JRMS gives legal assistance to demand nationality for children of Haitian descendants. This work is combined with advocacy work to legalize the refugees and for the law to respect the rights of the migrants born in the country. 

The JRMS also works in education and capacitating   the people, giving them Spanish lessons and psychological aid. The JRSM works for their integration in the change process, giving them a voice." We work with the children with games, so that they can see their rights, what is going on and their situation. We have achieved small but significant changes, such as when the child spontaneously realizes he has rights. Before, this did not exist in his mind, in his family who is usually migrant with no papers who do not even feel the right to tell their son: you have a right. They are afraid and they transmit this fear to their children" explains Mª Sol Antigua, Human Rights Coordinator in the JRMS, who adds, "We want to continue dreaming with the children and see how their hopes are raised when they realize that they are not the burden, it is society who is burdening them". This empowerment activity is also directed to local organizations training them in democratic leadership in order to enable them to demand their rights.

 

Fe y Alegría: education for children with "no papers"

Fe y Alegría also focuses its work on the most vulnerable so as to encourage a social change towards equality and justice. Many Fe y Alegría schools open their doors to Haitian descendant children without taking into account weather or not they are legal residents. This is specially so in the Fe y Alegría schools with Dominican-Haitian populated areas: in Elías Piña, in the south-eastern border of the country in Dajabón, in the north eastern border and in Batey Palmarejo in the outskirts of Santo Domingo.

In Entreculturas we support the work of the JRSM and Fe y Alegría in order to take into account the rights of the children over any burocratic difficulty that might hinder their integrity as a person.