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The right to a name and nationality – a major step… still pending!

© UNICEF RD/L.Quiroga/2008

Last year when the Dominican delegation returned from the Regional Meeting on the Right to an Identity and Universal Birth Registration,  we were very hopeful that the country would once and for all begin to resolve the problem of the large number of children who do not have birth certificates.

The Central Electoral Board showed great interest in the issue, as well as the Social Cabinet through the Solidarity Programme; there had been a number of  successful innovative experiences in the past few years and a group of children – beneficiaries of a project in Hermanas Mirabal province – had even received their birth certificates from the hands of the Vice President in a symbolic ceremony at the National Palace; and Congress was willing and ready to pass an amnesty law that would guarantee the right to a name and a surname to thousands of adolescents through a practical simplification of the existing “late birth declaration” process.

What’s more, the shocking figures from the ENHOGAR 2006 survey were still fresh in many people’s minds: that 22% of children born during the last five years did not have birth certificates, and thus, legally, did not exist.

One year later it appears that we are in the same boat: not even one adolescent has so far been able to benefit from the Amnesty Law approved by the Senate – and which came into effect at the end of August 2007 – so as to enjoy the right to be recognised as a legal human being; and now it’s too late for an entire “cohort” of adolescents who in the meantime reached the age of 16 and are thus unable to take advantage of the new law.

Moreover, thousands of normal declaration processes that were under way are paralysed, preventing thousands more children and adolescents from exercising their most basic right. But the worst thing about this is that thousands of people, including many young people and adolescents, are accused of having done something wrong because it is suspected – without much justification or evidence in many cases – that there were “irregularities” in the fulfilment of their rights. Dominican citizens were suddenly transformed into “delinquents” or legal ghosts for reasons beyond their control, punished by the incompetence of officials who were probably unaware that they had made any mistake.

One of the universal rules of legal practice worldwide is the non-retroactive application of new laws, which makes it impossible to understand how a recent measure can lead to a change in the legal status of people who have been registered for decades.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states in its article 7 that  “the child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.” And while every country, every nation has the right to decide to whom they grant nationality, what is happening today with the questioning of the identity of thousands of people is nothing less than a human rights violation.

We call on the Dominican people, the governmental authorities and the State to resolve the chaos of the identity and registration issue as soon as possible, so that each child, each adolescent and each adult who is on Dominican soil may enjoy or continue to enjoy their fundamental rights to an identity – so that anyone who does not yet enjoy these rights can go on trying to obtain them, and so that anyone who already had them does not lose them as a result of the application of a perverse and cruel measure.

Tad Palac
August 2008

 

 
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