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Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Regional Director for UNICEF, visits Dominican Republic

© UNICEF DR/J.L.Bautista/2009

Chronicle of a visit:
UNICEF Regional Director finds out about the realities of life for children in the Dominican Republic 

Santo Domingo.- Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, recently visited the Dominican Republic with the aim of finding out more about children and their situation in the country and the progress made by the UNICEF-Dominican Government Programme of Cooperation. At all the meetings he attended he took every opportunity to promote children and adolescents’ rights, as well as offer support to national entities.

During his short stay, Mr. Kastberg held meetings with the President of the Dominican Republic, the leaders of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, the president of the National Children’s Council (CONANI) and leaders of community organisations, and not least, with children. It was a very fruitful and inspirational visit.

The first day of the visit consisted of meetings with Dr. Reynaldo Pared Pérez, president of the Senate, and with Mr. Julio César Valentín, president of the Chamber of Deputies. The UNICEF Regional Director made the most of these occasions to stress that “rights are not an aim to be achieved, but a starting-off point” saying that he thought the current Constitutional Reform process under way in the country was an opportunity for establishing this starting point, as well as promising to support the process by sending an expert on constitutional matters to help with the national dialogue on Constitutional Reform.

In Congress, Mr. Kastberg also observed that there were great disparities in the country, which makes the landscape, appear like a set of precipices. He then proposed that the National Congress, with support from UNICEF, should promote the idea of conducting a Situation Analysis of Children in the Dominican Republic as a way of identifying the areas where social spending needs to be directed. The president of the Senate and his counterpart at the Chamber of Deputies were in agreement with these comments.

During his meeting with Mrs. Kirsys Fernández, President of the National Children’s Council (CONANI), Mr. Kastberg reiterated his concerns about social inequalities, and expressed great interest in the situation of malnutrition and low birth weight, birth registration and other issues. He offered to support this institution with a view to strengthening it.

In the afternoon, he went to the Mother-Child Pastoral Service project, where Father José Navarro spoke about the work being done by the community volunteer counsellors to improve the health of mothers and their newborn babies. They then went on to visit Santa Filomena School in the poor neighbourhood of La Ciénaga in the Los Guandules sector, where after being welcomed by the children with a huge fanfare, they listened to testimonies from the project health counsellors as well as from the beneficiary mothers.

© UNICEF DR/J.L.Bautista/2009

In the evening of the first day of his visit, Mr. Kastberg met and held discussions with several high-ranking government officials including Labour Minister Max Puig, Education Minister Melanio Paredes, Deputy Education Minister Guadalupe Valdez, Deputy Minister of Economy, Planning and Development América Bastidas and magistrate Marisol Tobal, Assistant Prosecutor. Also taking part were Horario J. Ornes of Save The Children and Father Jorge Cela of Fé y Alegría. Likewise, he was able to meet with members of the accredited diplomatic corps in the country, including ambassadors Nobutaka Shinomiya of Japan, Aart Ja M Verdegaal of the Netherlands, Patricia Fortier of Canada, Enrique Loaesa Tovar of Mexico, Luis Carresse of Uruguay and United States Trade Attache Mr. Roland W. Bullen.

Early the following morning he visited the Muchachos y Muchachas con Don Bosco (Boys and Girls with Don Bosco) project, meeting with a group of 30 children and adolescents who were assembled before going into their classrooms, and who, in a participative manner, expressed their concern about the violence that affects them.

Together with Father Juan Linares and a group of colleagues, Mr. Kastberg heard about the project workings and visited its installations and workshops. But what made the greatest impression was a visit to a school in the ‘27 de Febrero’ neighbourhood where there is no school building - the classrooms are spread around rented houses, and where the school playground is the street. “I don’t think that soldiers and police officers in this country are trained in these conditions”, said Mr. Kastberg, upon seeing the conditions in which these children are taught.

During a meeting with journalists he spoke of a “tsunami of violence” that affects children in their homes and in places like school, which are supposed to be spaces for protection, but the high levels of sexual abuse and mistreatment that take place there have turned them into “spaces for un-protection”.

The UNICEF Regional Director also mentioned the low level of social spending, with decades-long delays that “only serve to perpetuate poverty”. In the context of the constitutional reform he called on legislators “not to be hypocrites, trying to make abortion illegal”, as he believes that this type of measure would mainly affect poor adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17 who by resorting to unsafe services would lose not only the baby but their lives as well.

Mr Kastberg’s meeting with President Leonel Fernandez took place at midday, and they made the most of the occasion, together with UNICEF’s representative in the Dominican Republic, to exchange impressions about the situation of children in the region and in the country.

 


March 2009


 

Mother-Child Pastoral Service: an example of faith, love and commitment to children

 

 
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