Realizing Children’s Rights in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic has on several occasions positioned its legislation concerning children at the international level. Indeed, the country has, among others, signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1989) on 8 August 1990 and 11 June 1991 respectively. However, despite these texts and a number of developments in some areas, many child-related concerns remain and are extremely alarming.
Children’s Rights Index: 7,64 / 10
Orange level: Noticeable problems
Population: 10.85 million
Pop. ages 0-14: 27.56%
Life expectancy: 74.8 years
Under-5 mortality rate: 33.8‰
The Dominican Republic at a glance
The Dominican Republic is a Central American country located in the Caribbean Sea and has been a member of the Organisation of American States since 1889 (OAS, n.d.). The country shares the island on which it is located with Haiti.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus and the Spanish reached the island and decimated the population within a few years. They wanted the rich gold mines and used the island as a base for the conquest of the other islands and the American lands. This was followed by the French, who arrived in the 17th century and divided Santo Domingo (referring to the entire island at the time) between them; one-third for France, two-thirds for Spain. The Treaty of Ryswick between the French and Spanish divided the island in 1697.
Following this, the island was divided and reunified several times, before being definitively separated under the presidency of General Boyer (1822-1844). From then on, the distinction became clear: the population of Santo Domingo speaking Spanish was understood to be closer to Hispanic Americans, while that of Haiti speaking French was associated with the Africans (Bruneau & Cornevin, 1980).
The Dominican Republic became independent on 27 February 1844. Like many Latin American countries, it is strongly marked by colonial history, a succession of dictatorships, natural disasters, and a very fragile economic, political, and social state of affairs (Adélaïde-Merlande, 2002). The Dominican Republic is a country with significant inequality, as demonstrated by the mix of high levels of poverty with higher incomes (UNICEF, 2021).
Status of children’s rights 
The Dominican Republic ratified the UNCRC (UNCRC, 1989) on 8 August 1990 and 11 June 1991 respectively, which is a fundamental tool for the protection of children’s rights. The UNCRC has the authority of law in domestic law, so its dispositions can be directly raised before any judicial or administrative body. Likewise, it complemented this protection by ratifying the Optional Protocol to the UNCRC on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OHCHR, 2000), as well as the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OHCHR, 2000), on 14 October 2014.
In addition, the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (entered into force on 15 November 2000), the Night Work of Young Persons (Industry) Convention (entered into force on 12 August 1957), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1978), are also part of the international legislation to which the Dominican Republic has decided to be part of (OHCHR, n.d.). As a matter of fact, the ICESCR specifies in its article 10 that marriage must be freely consented to by the two parties concerned.
At the regional level, children’s rights are mentioned in article 19 of the American Convention on Human Rights, to which the Dominican Republic became a party on 21 January 1978 (Organisation of American States, n.d.). The article is very short and therefore remains very fragile.
On a national level, in 2004, the Law nº 136-03, promulgated by the executive, aims to establish a Code for the System of Protection and Fundamental Rights of Children and Adolescents. The main objective of this code is to transcribe UNCRC (1989) into domestic law as accurately as possible.
This code establishes a new institutional framework and initiates a range of social actions, which are coordinated by the State and civil society, in order to promote, ensure and protect the rights of children and adolescents. The Dominican Republic has 24 juvenile courts to provide legal assistance to children and adolescents (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2007).
Nevertheless, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has noticed certain discrepancies in the Dominican Republic’s legislative corpus, which has raised concern about the real direct applicability of the UNCRC (OHCHR, 2015). The Dominican Republic has not yet adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure, nor the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. However, progress has since been acknowledged (OHCHR, n.d.).
Addressing the needs of children
Education has long been disregarded in the Dominican Republic. However, since its independence, the right to education has been given a new impulse, with the later development of private education (Caravaca, Moschetti, & D. Brent, 2020). Regarding the enrolment rate of children, 2004 was the year with the highest percentage of children not enrolled in primary school, i.e. 14.378%. In 2014, the government spent 4.32% of the GDP on the education sector (UNESCO, n.d.). There has since been significant improvement with only 4.11% of children not enrolled in school in 2020 (The World Bank, 2020).
A challenge for the Dominican government remains the undocumented children, mostly immigrants from Haiti, who cannot go to school without identity papers. Indeed, from the age of 13, it is no longer possible to register and enrol in school without identification (Amnesty International, 2015). This refers to family law and will be discussed in the section on the right to identity below.
Regarding girls’ primary school enrolment, the data are increasingly optimistic. Nevertheless, the year 2020 still records 20,340 girls not attending school. Various cultural, social and economic factors hinder the evolution of norms concerning girls’ access to education. Among them, traditional expectations, teenage pregnancy, poverty and gender-based harassment are prominent limitations that stunt girls’ opportunities for the future (UNICEF, 2022).
Right to health
The infant mortality rate in the Dominican Republic has seen a steady decline. In 1980, the under-five mortality rate was 0.87%, while in 2020 it dropped to 0.34%. (The World Bank, 2022). One of the reasons is the development of health care and hospital facilities, but unfortunately, this has not benefited everyone. Although access to health care is not the most expensive in the Dominican Republic, the poorest families cannot afford to pay $100 US per quarter per person for average coverage (Expat.com, 2021).
A health issue that is still prevalent on the island is the high level of HIV. It is both present in adults and in children, due to a lack of prevention. This has several consequences, including the death of parents leaving their children to become orphans, as well as the poor quality of life of infected children, most of whom cannot afford the necessary care. In 2003, 2,800 children between the ages of 0 and 14 were living with the AIDS virus (The World Bank, 2022).
Right to identity
The Dominican Republic has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child and is therefore bound by the right to name and nationality and the preservation of identity (articles 7 and 8) (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2007). Its authorities are therefore required to declare and register the births of children on its territory. However, according to the World Bank website, the data is neither regular nor comprehensive (The World Bank, 2022). Thus, despite many efforts on the part of the government, many births are not officially declared to the public authorities. This results in children having no official identity or nationality.
Added to this is the consequence of discrimination. The children of Haitian immigrants find themselves in a very complex situation. Birth certificates and identity documents are denied to Dominicans of Haitian origin, and the Dominican authorities severely restrict their access to education, official work and health services for years.
In September 2013, authorities decided to deprive the children or grandchildren of undocumented Haitian citizens of Dominican nationality, rendering these people stateless and placing them under the threat of expulsion from their country. For many men and women, the lack of identity documents is a reflection of a disregard for one of their most fundamental rights as human beings (Amnesty International, 2021).
Risk factors → Country-specific challenges,
Numerous discriminatory acts by both state bodies and the civilian population are present in the Dominican Republic. Haitian children are among the main targets of this discrimination.
Many of them come to the Dominican Republic, in particular, to escape the disasters that plague their country. Once in the Dominican Republic, these children are not treated on an equal footing with nationals, particularly with regard to public services. For example, their access to education and health care is difficult and oftentimes restricted. Discrimination against girls is also widespread in the country. They do not have the same legal status and rights as boys.
Unfortunately, one in ten children is forced to work in the Dominican Republic. The country has made this problem a priority and numerous laws have been adopted to eradicate it. Despite this, child labour in the Dominican Republic is still very much prevalent. Many of them are exploited in the agricultural sector. Approximately 12% of children and adolescents aged 5 to 17 work (Iniciativa Regional América Latina y el Caribe Libre de Trabajo Infantil, 2015).
Other children are involved in the worst forms of trade. For example, the expansion of tourism in the country has stimulated the development of the sexual exploitation of children. The latter, caught in the net of traffickers, are forced to prostitute themselves or to give in to various abominable sexual practices.
A significant major problem in the Dominican Republic for a long time has been the prevalence of child marriage. In the past, it has been known that 40% of young girls were forced to marry before the age of 18. This began early, with preparation for their future wifely status. But these marriages often have serious consequences in regard to both the physical as well as mental health of young girls who do not understand the consequences of marriage.
However, in January 2021, the Dominican Republic passed Law 1-21 to eliminate child marriage in the Dominican Republic. This is a historic step forward for gender equality, but it will still be necessary to ensure that the legislation is enforced.
According to Virginia Saiz, director of Plan International in the Dominican Republic, we must “stop seeing the problem as a cultural problem, within the framework of the models and stereotypes established by society. And this change will be achieved by transforming the behaviors that still allow child marriage” (Plan International, 2021). Attention should also be paid to a potential rise in the early union from now on.
Children with disabilities still have difficulty accessing education. While there are a few special education programmes for children with special needs and disabilities, as of December 2012, 70% percent of children with disabilities were still not attending school (United States Agency for International Development and USAID/Dominican Republic, 2013).
Indeed, in 2015, the rapporteur Ms Silvia Judith Quan-Chang of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in her review of the Dominican Republic’s report, stressed “the need for any State Party to the Convention to repeal any provision that may nullify the legal capacities of persons with disabilities.
There is also a need for a legal definition of disability discrimination as well as multiple discrimination. Measures must also be taken to ensure access for persons with disabilities to employment, education and justice, among others.”. (OHCHR, 2015) This, therefore, reflects the lack of legal measures taken in regard to access to education for children with disabilities.
Written by Morgane Schmutz
Internally proofread by Aditi Partha
Last edited on 22 May 2022
Adélaïde-Merlande, J. (2002). Haïti, République dominicaine : naissance et fin d’une dictature. In J. Adélaïde-Merlande, Histoire contemporaine de la Caraïbe et des Guyanes (2002), (p. 31 to 46).
Amnesty International. (2021). Amnesty International Rapport 2021/22 – La situation sur les droits humains dans le monde. Retrieved from Amnesty International: https://www.amnesty.org/fr/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2022/03/WEBPOL1048702022FRENCH.pdf, accessed on 23 May 2022.
Amnesty International. (2015). Sans papiers et sans droits en République dominicaine : « Je ne peux absolument rien faire ». Retrieved from Amnesty International: https://www.amnesty.org/fr/latest/news/2015/06/no-papers-no-rights-in-the-dominican-republic-i-m-not-able-to-do-anything/, accessed on 03 June 2022.
Bruneau, J.-P., & Cornevin, R. (1980). Présentation. In R. C. Jean-Pierre Bruneau, Haïti, Saint-Domingue (p. pages 11 to 128). Arthaud.
Caravaca, A., Moschetti, M., & D. Brent, E. J. (2020, October 16). Tendances à la privatisation de l’éducation en République dominicaine : hétérarchie, gouvernance en réseau et nouvelles formes de philanthropie. Retrieved from Internationale de l’Éducation: https://www.ei-ie.org/fr/item/23545:tendances-a-la-privatisation-de-leducation-en-republique-dominicaine-heterarchie-gouvernance-en-reseau-et-nouvelles-formes-de-philanthropie-par-d-brent-edwards-jr-mauro-c-moschetti-et-alejandro-caravaca, accessed on 23 May 2022.
Committee on the Rights of the Child. (2007). Deuxièmes rapports périodiques que les États parties devaient présenter en 1998 RÉPUBLIQUE DOMINICAINE. Retrieved from United Nations, accessed on 23 May 2022.
Committee on the Rights of the Child. (2007, July 16). Examen des rapports présentés par les Etats Parties en application de l’article 44 de la Convention. Retrieved from United Nations: refworld.org.es/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain/opendocpdf.pdf?reldoc=y&docid=47b95e7b2, accessed on 03 June 2022.
Expat.com. (2021). Les soins de santé en République Dominicaine. Retrieved from Expat.com: https://www.expat.com/fr/guide/amerique-centrale/republique-dominicaine/11846-la-sante-en-republique-dominicaine.html#:~:text=Le%20co%C3%BBt%20de%20l’assurance,personne%2C%20pour%20une%20couverture%20moyenne, accessed on 27 May 2022.
Iniciativa Regional América Latina y el Caribe Libre de Trabajo Infantil. (2015, June 10). Comprendre le travail des enfants et l’emploi des jeunes en République dominicaine. Retrieved from Iniciativa Regional América Latina y el Caribe Libre de Trabajo Infantil: https://www.iniciativa2025alc.org/fr/noticias/entendiendo-el-trabajo-infantil-y-el-empleo-juvenil-en-republica-dominicana#:~:text=conclusions%20du%20rapport-,Environ%2012%20%25%20des%20enfants%20et%20adolescents%20de%205%20%C3%A0%2017,de%20ch%C3%B4mage%20, accessed on 23 May 2022.
OAS. (n.d.). Member State: Dominican Republic. Retrieved from Organisation of American States: https://www.oas.org/fr/etats_membres/etat_membre.asp?sCode=DRE, accessed on 03 June 2022.
OHCHR. (2015, April 08). Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities considers report of the Dominican Republic. Retrieved from United Nations OHCHR: https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2015/04/committee-rights-persons-disabilities-considers-report-dominican-republic, accessed on 23 May 2022.
OHCHR. (2015, January 13). Committee on the Rights of the Child reviews report of the Dominican Republic. Retrieved from United Nations: https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2015/01/committee-rights-child-reviews-report-dominican-republic, accessed on 23 May 2022.
OHCHR. (n.d.). Dominican Republic. Retrieved from Status of Ratification Interactive Dashboard: https://indicators.ohchr.org/, accessed on 03 June 2022.
OHCHR. (2000, May 25). Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Retrieved from United Nations: https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/optional-protocol-convention-rights-child-involvement-children, accessed on 27 May 2022.
OHCHR. (2000, May 25). Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Retrieved from United Nations: https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/optional-protocol-convention-rights-child-sale-children-child, accessed on 03 June 2022.
OHCHR. (n.d.). Retrieved from Status of Ratification Interactive Dashboard. Retrieved from Dominican Republic: https://indicators.ohchr.org/, accessed on 27 May 2022.
Organization of American States. (n.d.). American Convention on Human Rights. Retrieved from Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: https://www.cidh.oas.org/basicos/english/basic3.american%20convention.htm, accessed on 23 May 2022.
Plan International. (2021, January 21). Avancée Historique : La République Dominicaine Interdit Les Mariages D’enfants. Retrieved from Plan International: https://www.plan-international.fr/news/2021-01-21-avancee-historique-la-republique-dominicaine-interdit-les-mariages-denfants, accessed on 23 May 2022.
The World Bank. (2022). Children (0-14) living with HIV. Retrieved from The World Bank Data: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.HIV.0014, accessed on 23 May 2022.
The World Bank. (2020). Children out of school (% of primary school age) – Dominican Republic. Retrieved from The World Bank: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.PRM.UNER.ZS?locations=DO, accessed on 23 May 2022.
The World Bank. (2022). Completeness of birth registration (%) – Dominican Republic. Retrieved from The World Bank Data: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.REG.BRTH.ZS?locations=DO, accessed on 03 June 2022.
The World Bank. (2022). The World Bank Data. Retrieved from Mortality rate, under-5 (per 1,000 live births) – Dominican Republic: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.DYN.MORT?end=2020&locations=DO&start=1968, accessed on 27 May 2022.
UNCRC. (1989, November 20). Convention on the Rights of the Child . Retrieved from United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner: https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-rights-child, accessed on 27 May 2022.
UNESCO. (n.d.). Dominican Republic. Retrieved from UNESCO: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/gefi/partnerships/gefi-champion-countries/dominican-republic/, accessed on 03 June 2022.
UNICEF. (2021). Dominican Republic. Retrieved from Country Office Annual Report 2021: https://www.unicef.org/reports/country-regional-divisional-annual-reports-2021/Dominican-Republic, accessed on 27 May 2022.
UNICEF. (2022, April 18). Why girls aren’t learning in the Dominican Republic? Retrieved from UNICEF República Dominicana: https://www.unicef.org/dominicanrepublic/en/node/2026, accessed on 23 May 2022.
United States Agency for International Development and USAID/Dominican Republic. (2013, January). Dominican Republic Country Development Cooperation Strategy. Retrieved from USAID: https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1862/Dominican-Republic-CDCS_public%20version_FY14_FY18.pdf, accessed on 23 May 2022.
 This article by no means purports to give a full or representative account of children’s rights in the Dominican Republic; indeed, one of the many challenges is the scant updated information on Dominican Republic children, some of which are unreliable, not representative, outdated, or simply non-existent.